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Ideal Election System

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If there is such thing as ideal election system, then such system would be the one that corresponds with the particular democratic experiences and political-sociological context in each country. An election system that is ideal for a country does not necessarily ideal for other country. The United States may be ideal for plurality (majoritarian) system. Australia may be ideal for preferential system. And many countries in Europe may be ideal for proportional system with its many variances.

Other than the particular experiences and political-sociological context, the implementation of certain election system should also consider the ends or goals that a country want to achieve as stated in its constitution. There are two traditionally conflicting goals: either election system is used to establish an effective governance or to increase the representation of the people.

Such paradox stems from the misconception that effective governance will always reduce the rate of representation of the people. The term “proportional” in proportional election system means the total amount of votes acquired by political party is proportional with the number of seats acquired in the parliament. The more proportional the ratio between votes and seats, then it becomes more ideal.

On the other hand, the plurality/majoritarian system, unlike the proportional, seeks to establish an effective government by ignoring the total votes acquired by losing candidates. In majoritarian system, which also prominent as the majoritarian two-round system, the result of election is determined by the 50%+1 vote, and the 50%-1 shall be ignored. Meanwhile, in a single-round system, the winner of the election (that is the candidate eligible for seat) is the candidate acquiring the most votes (first past the post/FPTP), even though the composite of votes acquired by the other candidates may be much higher than the votes acquired by the winning candidate.

The Experience of Indonesia

Since 1955 until 2014, it is safe to say that the proportional system is the most ideal election system for Indonesia. It is apparent, for example, in the legislative elections. In the 1955 Elections, the participants of the elections are not only political parties, but also individual candidates. Traditionally, individual candidates is the participant for election that uses plurality/majoritarian system. However, in Indonesia in 1955, the participation of individual candidates is within the framework of proprtional system alongside with the participation of political parties.

According to the think-tank International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), proportional system is an election system in which there are more than one seats contested in one electoral district. The main principle of this system is that: the more seats contested in an electoral district, then the proportionality (the rate of representation of the people) will become more ideal. Traditionally, in a proportional election system, voters votes for political party, not a certain individual candidate.

If we would like to evaluate the government resulted from elections using the proportionality system, then we will have to evaluate the performance of political parties, not the individual members, in the parliament. Such system will enhance the political relation between voters and political party. Voters will decide whether they would like to continue legitimizing the sovereignty of political party by choosing to vote or not to vote for the party. Even though the performance of individual politicians may be an initial evaluation, the final judgment of the evaluation will be focusing on the collective performance of political party.

In Indonesia, due to the infamous corrupt reputation of political party, and due to the impatience to punish or substitute bad political party in the next election, there have been demands from some people to change the proportionality system with plurality system. Individual candidacy, instead of political party, is considered to be more transparent and accountable. Voters who are impatient to substitute bad politicians may do so by using the recall mechanism.

When policymakers designed the legal framework for 1999 Elections, there was a proporsal to implement plurality system by the name of district system. However, the urge to antagonize the Golkar Party (the political party of the late ex-President Soeharto and the previous dominating political party) made some people want to maintain the proportional system. It was, indeed, advantageous for Golkar party if the 1999 Elections use the district system, because Golkar Party already has established branches in all local areas throughout the country.

The plurality/majoritarian system is indeed emphasizing more on electoral district instead of the total votes or population. Because in plurality/majoritarian system there is only one contested seat for every district, the political dynamics in highly-populated district is considered equal with the political dynamics in less-populated district. This is why in 1955 the government decided to implement proportional system instead, because if they use pluraity/majoritarian system, Indonesia would have been an islam-based theocratic country.

An election expert, Didik Supriyanto, often says that proportional system is a given system for Indonesian election. Compared to other election system, proportional system is more accommodating to the social plurality and diversity of Indonesia. It can be concluded that, if somebody wants to implement plurality/majoritarian system in Indonesia, then he/she might be against social diversity.

Based on such experiences and socio-political context, it is safe to say that proportional system is the ideal election system for Indonesia. Further question then arises: what kind of proportional system?

The Laws and the Purpose of Election

The needs and necessities of a country as contained in the laws may answer what kind of election system is ideal for that country. In Indonesia, the incongruity between the purpose of elections and its variable as regulated in Law No.8/2012 has rendered the 2014 Elections defective.

There are at least three purposes of the Law No.8/2012 that were violated by the implementation of 2014 Elections. Firstly, the purpose to establish an effective presidential government, which resulted instead in a divided government. Secondly, the purpose to establish a simple multi-party system resulted in an extreme multi-party parliament, where the number of relevant party in parliament is higher than in the previous election. Thirdly, the purpose to increase the rate of representation of the people which resulted instead in disproportional seats allocation due to the conversion method used is in the favor for small political parties.

The Secretariat for the Codification of Election Laws (the Secretariat) has formulated election system variables that are more suitable with the three purposes as set out in the Law No.8/2012. Firstly, an effective presidential system is achieved by implementing concurrent national elections and concurrent local elections. Secondly, simplification of multi-party system is achieved by reducing the district magnitude (the total contested seats per district) from 3-10 and 3-12 seats per district into 3-6 seats per district. Thirdly, increasing proportionality is achieved by using the Saint Lague conversion method which is more neutral.

In regards with the voting method, either using party list (closed-list) or candidates list (open-list), most election experts say that it is more recommendable to use the party list method. Party list is more consistent with the main principle of proportional system which is to enhance political party by improving the relation between party and voters. We have to remember that the seats allocation as the result from election with proportional system is allocated on the basis of political party, not individual candidate.

In addition, the party list method is also more compatible with concurrent elections. Concurrent elections, a type of election where presidential election and legislative election are held concurrently, has the purpose to establish an effective presidential government. This purpose is achieved when the elected president is fully supported by the majority of political party in parliament.

Voting for political party on the ballot will optimize the coat-tail effect, especially in concurrent elections. If voters are provided with the option to choose president candidate and political party at the same time, it is highly more probable that they will choose political party that is supportive of the president candidate. In the previous 2014 Elections, most voters who voted for Joko Widodo were also vote for PDI-P (the political party of Joko Widodo), and voters who voted for Prabowo Subianto were also vote Gerindra (the party of Prabowo Subianto).

Such coat-tail effect will not happen in open-list method, where voters may very well be voting for a president candidate and legislative candidate that come from different (and might be adversarial) political parties.

If we insist on implementing the open-list method, then we should heed the recommendation from Syndication for Election and Democracy (SPD) to decrease the district magnitude from 3-10 seats per district to only two seats per district. Chile has been doing this for years and they have successfully prevent any divided government as the result of extreme multi-party condition. However, as the consequence, decreasing district magnitude will also result in less diverse representation and proportionality as set out in the laws.

Then what about the other alternatives, such as the mixed-member proportional system and the parallel system? It would be much better if we do not complicate our election system with alternative systems that might render the coat-tail effect ineffective. As for the parallel system, other than being contradictory with the purpose to increase the proportionality and the diverse socio-political context in Indonesia, the plurality aspect of the parallel system has actually been accommodated by the existence of the Lower House Parliament (DPD). []

USEP HASAN SADIKIN

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