The political reformation in 1998 has significantly transformed the democratization atmosphere in Indonesia through amendment of the 1945 Constitution. One of its fundamental changes is related to the electoral mechanism on regional leaders for Governors, Regents and Mayors. We used to have indirect election where the regional leaders were chosen by members of local parliament. A year after the enactment of Law Number 32 Year 2004 of Regional Government, the election of regional leaders was changed to direct election which uses one person one vote mechanism.
On the other hand, six years after its implementation, many Indonesians are questioning whether the mechanism of direct election is still appropriate with the aims of democracy itself since it creates economic, social and political burdens. Responding to this condition, the Government has just proposed a bill of local elections which one of its provisions intends to change back the present gubernatorial election into indirect election through local parliament. As a result, this issue has attracted a lot of debate not only among politicians but also between government officers and academicians. This essay will consider some objections to the Government planning to change the gubernatorial election system. Finally, it will put forward a number of reasons why the direct gubernatorial election in Indonesia should not be changed.
In the context of Indonesian political history, several different systems of local election have been implemented. Firstly, the central government appointed the local leaders (pre independence era - 1958); Secondly, the President directly appointed the local leaders (1959-1973); Thirdly, the local parliament nominated candidates of local leaders to the President and they would be decided by the President (1974-1998); Fourthly, the local parliament chose the local leaders without any involvement from central government (1999-2003); Lastly, people elect their own local leader directly through one man one vote mechanism (2004 - present).
Regarding the present electoral mechanism, the government is aware that neither the candidates nor the voters are politically ready to implement the mechanism of direct local elections, including the gubernatorial elections. They found that there have been many cases of electoral fraud in direct elections which injure the values of democracy itself. Physical violence, personal or group intimidation and local riots often occur in certain regions when they carry out direct local elections. Practices such as money politics or vote buying often take place in almost all regions. Structural intervention from higher officers in regional government and unprofessional work by regional electoral commission members are also other disadvantages in our local elections.
However, there is little empirical data to support such accusation. Even though there were 244 cases of local electoral disputes lodged at the Constitutional Court in 2010, only 26 cases were granted by the Court (11.6%). Moreover, none of 14 complaints of gubernatorial elections from 6 different provinces was granted by the Court (0%). In other words, the Court says that there were no significant electoral frauds in any gubernatorial elections which are characterized as structured, systematic and massive violations in 2010.
Additionally, some people claim that it is almost impossible for candidate to be elected unless they have a lot of money. Moreover, a party without financial backing is unlikely to get much public support. For example, Minister of Home Affairs Gamawan Fauzi points out that any candidate who wants to run in direct gubernatorial election needs at least Rp 20 billion to Rp 100 billion or approximately US$ 2 million to US$ 10 million. Meanwhile, he continues, their basic salary will be less than Rp 10 million per month or around US$ 1.100 per month (‘Paradoks Biaya Politik Mahal’, 2011). Therefore, we can assume that elected candidate take advantage of any opportunity to get their money back which was spent during their campaign process.
Unfortunately, one of their approaches is by corrupting the regional government budget. Data presented by Commission of Corruption Eradication (KPK) shows that there are 10 Governors and 158 Mayors or Regents who have been convicted as corruptors (Muladi, 2011). Thus people believe that direct local elections provide more opportunities for creating local corruption in most regional governments.
Nonetheless, changing the gubernatorial election system to an indirect mechanism through local parliament will not guarantee that corruption practiced by elected candidates will be reduced. The reason why many local leaders today are convicted as corruptors is not merely caused by the direct election system. It is because after reformation era Indonesia established a strong legal institution named KPK which has been very effective in hunting down the corruptors. Free press and stronger civil society have also significantly contributed to revealing corruption cases of local leaders.
Furthermore, it is easier for candidates in indirect elections to practice political corruption by buying the votes from limited members of local parliament. In terms of financial problems, changing the electoral system is not a good solution. Mboi (2009) suggests that it is better to make a law for regulating and controlling the financial support for the candidates, including giving hard sanctions if they violate the law.
The government proposes two main reasons for changing the direct gubernatorial election. The first reason is to improve the efficiency of electoral budget which has a very high cost for the electoral procedures. I Gusti Putu Artha, Member of National Electoral Commission, mentions that the budget required for each direct gubernatorial election is around Rp 70 billion to Rp 90 billion or approximately US$ 7.5 million to US$ 10 million (‘Biaya Pilkada Rp 15 Triliun’, 2011). The second reason is that the governors only have a low level of authority. Therefore, Government notes that the process of direct election would be too costly for just electing governors since their authority just as representative of central government at the regional level.
However, investing more money for developing our democracy will not give direct advantages within a short time. Some people believe that defending the values of democracy is neither cheap nor easy, but the price is worth it. For tackling the budget problems, merging the local elections for Governor, Regents and Mayors at the same time for each province will be more applicable in terms of time and budget efficiency as well as reducing the negative socio-politics effects. One of the best examples for emerging the local elections was the regional heads election in West Sumatera in July 2010. The local electoral commission in West Sumatera could reduce the cost of the electoral process considerably by merging the local elections.
In addition, having a different electoral system for local leaders will also produce other problems. Governors who are elected by indirect election are likely to face more difficulties in handling Regents and Mayors who were elected directly by the people in their province because Governors will be considered less legitimate by the people than their Regents or Mayors. There may also more serious conflict between Governors and Regents or Mayors due to dualism in governing the decentralization function.
Prominent scholars have also mentioned various advantages of direct elections. According to Schiller (1999) in liberal democratic theory, direct elections have five specific functions in educating people, candidates and parties. First, people will know about the main concerns, track records, characters and visions of the candidates; Second, people will have an opportunity to explain their main needs and demands to the candidate as their future local leaders; Third, people who have the right to vote will be more empowered through the direct election process; Fourth, people will have more options to choose their local leaders based on their individual merits; and Fifth, elected local leaders will have stronger legitimacy as a public mandate when they run their government.
Likewise, Djohan (cited in Schiller, 1999) says that the direct elections are also claimed to have certain advantages, such as, strengthening the local democracy, increasing the political awareness of constituents, expanding the civil society participation, widening the chance of the people to be involved in government policies and electing better quality local leaders who are supported by the majority of the voters. Meanwhile, Erb and Priyambudi (2009) claim that the direct election provides a bigger opportunity for local people to participate in choosing their local leaders.
Besides that, people can fully enjoy their fundamental sovereignty in direct election mechanism as stipulated in Article 1 para (2) of 1945 Constitution. If local leaders are elected directly by the people, candidates for these positions have to know the people’s wishes. That is why elected local leaders in direct elections are expected to have more responsibility for their people. More to the point, constituents will have more chance to participate directly in changing local political system either by asking for political contracts with the candidate or by just giving their votes.
Direct election is also in accordance with Article 28D para (3) of 1945 Constitution which says, “Every citizen shall have the right to obtain equal opportunities in government”. The direct election mechanism enables independent candidates to have the opportunity to run for office in local elections. In fact, the Chairman of Gerakan Nasional Calon Independen (National Movement of Independent Candidate) reports that there has been one Governor and 21 elected Mayors who ran for office as independent candidates in local elections for the last three years (‘DPD Mendukung Capres…’, 2011). This opportunity is almost impossible if the regional leaders are elected by local parliament.
Furthermore, there is also significant meaning of direct election processes which show stronger commitment for a country to implement a modern concept of democracy (Antlov, 2003). In addition, Hidayat (2009) states that the direct election of regional heads is the best electoral mechanism for implementing the values of democracy and empowering good governance and people’s sovereignty.
Moreover, direct election would help ensure that candidate from small parties or independent candidates will have an equal chance of being elected. In current Indonesian politics, some political and electoral observers suspect that the government planning to change gubernatorial election system will be profitable only to the present ruling parties, such as Democrat Party and Golkar Party, which have the majority of members in local parliament (‘Demokrat Dituding Punya…’, 2011). Therefore, those parties will have a bigger chance than the small parties to get the majority of votes in gubernatorial elections through local parliament.
To conclude, I believe that it is too soon to judge that the direct election has failed to create a better condition for the people, because Indonesia has just been implementing the direct election of regional heads for 6 years. It is a very short time for making an evaluation of this mechanism, because the term of office for regional heads is just 5 years. It means that there have been only one or two direct elections for electing local leaders in each region. What we have reached is just “electoral democracy”, not “full democracy”. The former is just a routine of electoral processes, while the latter pays more attention to the rights of people to vote and participate in all public and political processes (Haynes, 2001).
Building a country with full democratic values cannot be gained instantly but it needs a process. People should be given the chance to learn from their weaknesses in practicing direct elections in the past. If the Government and House of Representative agree to return to the old mechanism of gubernatorial election, then it will be a setback for our consolidation of democracy. Therefore, the direct gubernatorial election in Indonesia should be defended. (*)
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‘Biaya Pilkada Rp 15 Triliun’ (Cost of Local Elections is Rp 15 trilion) 2011, Kompas ,24 July, retrieved 23 March 2011,
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Muladi 2011, ‘Menggugat Integritas Intelektual’ (Suing the Intellectual Integrity), Working Meeting of Indonesian Law Scholars Association (ISHI), 20 February 2011, Jakarta.
‘Paradoks Biaya Politik Mahal (Paradox of High Political Cost)’ 2011, Kompas, 23 July, retrieved 22 March 2011,
‘Pemilihan oleh DPRD Untungkan Parpol Besar’ (Election through Local Parliament Gives Advantage to the Ruling Parties)’ 2011, Kompas, 11 February, retrieved 22 March 2011,
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