Top court upholds open-list voting system for Indonesia’s 2024 legislative elections

The bench also said the existing open-list format did not necessarily undermine the roles of political parties in elections.

Nur Janti

Nur Janti

The Jakarta Post


A voter dips his finger in election ink during an election.(JP/Anggara Mahendra)

June 16, 2023

JAKARTAThe Constitutional Court on Thursday rejected a petition to reinstate the closed-list electoral system for the upcoming legislative elections, ending debates among political parties across the spectrum and rumors that the court had decided otherwise.

Thursday’s ruling means Indonesia will host elections for seats at the national and regional legislatures next year under its existing open-list voting system, which allows voters to choose among legislative candidates, rather than just from among political parties under the closed-list proportional representation format for legislative elections.

The petition filed by six individuals, including a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle Party (PDI-P), the largest party in the ruling coalition, and an individual who wants to run in the coming legislative elections, sought a return to a closed ballot list system that was scrapped in 2008, where voters choose parties instead of local candidates. The plaintiffs filed the petition in November last year, arguing that the current open-list format encouraged vote-buying and undermined the role of political parties in elections.

The justices held that it was policymakers who have the authority to change the electoral system, not the court, and that neither of the two systems was superior.

The open-list format is vulnerable to vote-buying, while the closed-list voting is prone to “nomination-buying”, said Justice Saldi Isra. The real problem, he said, was in the management of the political parties and their candidates themselves, and therefore political parties and legislative candidates should instead improve their integrity, while law enforcement is also crucial to curb “money politics”.

The bench also said the existing open-list format did not necessarily undermine the roles of political parties in elections.

The ruling was almost unanimous, with only one justice out of eight, Arief Hidayat, a two-time House of Representatives appointee, dissenting.

The proposed return to the closed-list system faced massive pushback from political parties across the spectrum, which feared losing votes in the legislative elections next year because they rely on the popularity of individual candidates, and from activists and election observers who feared that it would distort popular sovereignty.

The PDI-P, which has long sought the return of the closed-list ballot, had insisted that the open-list format encouraged vote-buying and a total victory for individuals over parties in elections.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has been working under the assumption that the current open-list system still applies for next year’s legislative elections.

The country moved from the closed-list to the fully open-list proportional representation system in the 2009 election to increase the directness of democracy, with voters gaining more power over who they elect at the expense of political parties that nominate candidates.

Last month, Denny Indrayana, former deputy law minister under the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, claimed he had obtained information from an unnamed yet reliable source that the court justices would rule in favor of the plaintiffs. This caused alarm among political parties and the public, raising fresh fears of a potential reversal of the current open-list ballots. (ipa)

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