January 9, 2023
JAKARTA – Eight out of nine political parties at the House of Representatives have reiterated their strong opposition to a push to return to a closed-list electoral system for the coming legislative elections.
Currently, Indonesia allows voters to choose among legislative candidates on open-list ballots, rather than just from among political parties under the closed-list proportional representation format for legislative elections. But a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is challenging the 2017 General Elections Law at the Constitutional Court, seeking to restore the closed-list format, in which voters solely vote for parties that in turn exclusively decide the winning candidates proportionate to the number of votes won.
In a press conference in Jakarta on Sunday, chairs and deputy chairs of these parties, including two opposition parties, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), issued a five‐point statement rejecting the old system.
“The closed-list proportional representation is a setback for our democracy,” Golkar Party chair Airlangga Hartarto said as quoted by kompas.tv, adding that the eight parties also called on the General Elections Commission (KPU) to maintain its independence.
Leadership of the Gerindra Party did not attend Sunday’s event but the party is committed to the joint statement, according to Airlangga.
The PDI-P is the only party at the House that supports the idea of returning to the old electoral system. The party, which has long sought the return of the closed-list ballot, has insisted that the open-list format encourages vote-buying and the elevation of individuals over parties in elections.
Earlier this month, the eight political factions in the House stressed their shared opposition to changing the current open-list system, describing the prevailing mechanism as “progressive and characteristic of our democracy” that should be maintained.
Five other plaintiffs challenging the elections law at the court include Yuwono Pintadi, a self-proclaimed NasDem Party member, whom NasDem has disowned as his membership has not been renewed since it expired in 2019, and an individual who wants to run in the coming legislative elections.
NasDem recently filed a third-party intervention in the case so it can present arguments opposing the plaintiffs, kompas.com reported.
Members of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organizations, have come down on opposite sides of the debate over the idea of returning to the closed-list format.
Joining election watchdogs, experts and the majority of political parties, NU chairman Yahya “Gus Yahya” Cholil Staquf, said a return to the closed-list electoral system would mean a step back to the days of the New Order era.
“I personally think that a closed-list electoral system would theoretically reduce voters’ direct participation,” said Gus Yahya on Jan. 4. As the organization’s central board has yet to hold a formal meeting discussing the issue however, Gus Yahya told reporters that this was merely his personal opinion and not NU’s official stance.
Gus Yahya’s opinion directly contradicts that of Muhammadiyah, which has formally declared its support for a closed-list system, according to secretary-general Abdul Mu’ti. “Our hope is that the closed-list system would lessen the possibility of political cannibalism where candidates try to trip each other up to get elected,” said Mu’ti on Jan. 3.
He further explained that Muhammadiyah had been advocating for a closed-list system since the 2014 general elections as from its observation, the current open-list proportional representation format had turned legislative elections into a popularity contest, which in turn leaves open the influence of vote-buying in elections.
While Indonesia has adopted an open-list system since 2004, which allows voters to have an influence over legislative candidates put forward by political parties, the debate reignited after KPU chairman Hasyim Asy’ari hinted in late December 2022 at the possibility of returning to the old, closed-list system.
Election watchdog Progressive Democracy Watch (Prodewa) has since reported Hasyim to the Election Organization Ethics Council (DKPP). “We accuse the KPU chairman of an ethical violation by favoring a certain group or electoral system,” said Prodewa executive director Fauzan Irvan on Jan. 3.
From an academic perspective, political scientist Burhanuddin Muhtadi of pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia said there was really no ideal option between an open- and closed-list system. “Cross-national studies show that an open-list system has led to intra-party competition as candidates have no incentives to promote their own party,” said Burhanuddin on Jan. 4.
Burhanuddin explained that this had led to candidates adopting a patronage approach.
In 2019, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) found Rp 8 billion (US$511,524) worth of money in small bills stuffed into envelopes belonging to Golkar politician Bowo Sidik Pangarso. The KPK believed that Bowo was prepping for a serangan fajar (dawn raid), a common vote-buying practice in Indonesia where candidates hand out envelopes of cash to voters hours before the polls open.