Saving Our Election

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE proposal by Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian to evaluate the direct elections for regional heads is a very good one. The political mechanism used since the start of the Reformasi era does need improving. But it is a leap of logic too far if the problems with direct local elections are used as an excuse to move to elections by Regional Legislative Councils (DPRD).

    Minister Tito has complained about direct local elections by illustrating the negative impacts of them. Among these are high political costs that push regional heads into corruption. He also proposed an asymmetric local elections system that will make it possible for regions to organize elections through the DPRDs. According to Tito, this could be done in regions with low levels of democratic maturity.

    The problem is, do some of our people really have low democratic maturity? The people have long practiced democracy in the election of village heads. Even if there are people with low democratic maturity, it is the job of the government and the parties to provide political education. The reality is that social conflicts at times of local elections in a number of regions have not been triggered by the public, but by the political elite.

    The government should study local direct local elections carefully and not rush to scapegoat this form of democracy. Is it true that direct local elections trigger corruption? If that was the case, regions and mayors elected by the DPRDs during the New Order era would have been relatively free of corruption. But this was not the case.

    Candidates for regional heads compete to scatter money around during regional election campaigns because they can still see opportunities for corruption if they are elected. They even pay high dowries to the parties supporting them. Why are we not ending this opportunity for corruption? The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) should be strengthened and the fight against corruption continued. This way, candidates for regional heads would not want to speculate about throwing money around hoping it would subsequently be recouped.

    Together with the political parties, the government could also draw up a cheaper mechanism for direct local elections. Electronic voting could be considered. There needs to be a limit on the costs of campaigning. The government has allowed this practice of throwing money at voters and the payment of high dowries to political parties proposing candidates to continue, leading to high political costs.

    There is also no guarantee that elections of regional heads by the DPRDs would make the political process more efficient. Candidates for regional heads could compete to pay bribes to DPRD members to ensure they were elected. The richest candidates would eventually be chosen. A system of election via the DPRDs would also nurture the practice of oligarchies and political cartels in the party system. They would simply have to share out posts of regional heads in each region.

    Such practices would kill democracy. The people would be unable to punish regional heads that were corrupt or who performed poorly because this power would have been taken over by members of the DPRDs and the political parties. And the people would no longer be able to put forward alternative candidates outside the wishes of political parties – something which is possible with direct elections. Direct elections even allow independent candidates to contest.

    It would be a mistake for the government to end direct local elections. This policy would preserve the current political elite, including their families and associates, but would kill people’s aspirations.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine