February 23, 2024

Stop Expecting for Angels in Elections

I can only laugh when the Election Commission (KPU) and the Parliament agree to allow criminal convict to participate in local elections as candidate. Titi Anggraini, the Executive Director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), wrote this on her Facebook with irony:

“We should not let the government take away the rights of criminal convicts to participate in elections just because they have committed minor offense like littering.
Sir, for me, any person who considers littering as a light offense is not worthy to be a candidate in elections.

This is, in fact, principal. We have always taught our children: “Son, do not litter. Please keep your environment clean and tidy”. Why should we take this matter lightly? I am really disappointed.”

What Mrs. Titi really wants is elections with high-integrity. Every candidate in local elections has to be immaculate, free from any culpability, however insignificant.

This implies a herculean task for the election management bodies (EMBs): they have to be able to provide the voters with electoral candidates who are angels-like. The question is then: is it even possible to realize such task? I do not think so. Such task can only be realized in heaven.

The Work of the Devil

We have many times tried to find the perfect formula for our elections to produce the perfect elected officials. We have failed every time.

We have learned a hard lesson that indirect local elections, where local public officials are selected by members of the parliament, had somehow increased corruption among the selected officials. Indirect local elections are considered to be producing public officials without integrity. We then change the system into direct local elections, where voters can choose directly the public officials of their favor. However, much to our own disappointment, we then found out that direct elections also produce corrupt officials.

Reputedly, the current local elections regulation system is designed to minimize the cost of the elections itself: the elections are held concurrently, campaign activities are funded by the government, and the government also criminalized political dowry and money politics. All those new imperative regulations are implemented to prevent any elected politician to commit any corruption, in the sense that those elected officials will no longer feel the need to pay off their “investment” during the electoral period.

Unfortunately, it is a false hope. The lawmakers think they have created a foolproof legal framework that can prevent political corruption. In reality, there are many loopholes that can be exploited by politicians to commit their devilish work. We all know political parties will not nominate a politician as electoral candidate unless the politician has a certain acceptable electability rate. As the consequence, there are many cases where a politician establishes a collusion with pollsters to mark up their popularity and electability rate.

The politician, of course, has to look for a big sum of money to pay the pollsters. Often, the politician has to establish an agreement with big business, that he/she will secure a business project for the big business once he/she get elected.

This is a common practice among candidates. There are many cases where the law enforcers caught politician doing illicit business with businessman.

There are many other possible “costs” other than paying pollsters that have to be paid by politicians so that they will be nominated by political parties, such as political dowry, campaign costs, and voters bribes. In practice, the election law is unable to prevent such illicit financial transaction because the law itself imposes complicated requirements for the transaction to be considered illegal: that it has to be committed in a structured, systematic, and massively manner (SSM).

This is the unintended consequence of minimizing the election costs: the government may forget to provide necessary funds for candidates, especially when the candidates are facing legal problem and in need of legal counsel. We all know the price for a legal counsel is highly expensive. This is the price that will have to be paid by candidates when they have to file an electoral dispute to the Constitutional Court.

As in the case with pollsters, the candidate will have to establish an agreement with businessman to be able to pay the legal fee. This imposes another possibility on how a candidate becomes dependent on clientelism relationship.

Those are a few of the complexity in direct local elections. It is therefore a mistake to hope that our election will ever produce angel-like public officials, especially if the legal framework still facilitates the politicians to commit their devilish works.

Angels in Local Elections

To prevent such devilish works, we cannot rely solely on the regulations. Politics and law, in this case, have to work together. Political parties have to be aware of its role, that it is their responsibility to prepare high-quality cadres to be nominated as candidates in elections with high electability rate, so they do not have to pay high prices for pollsters.

At the same time, we should rejuvenate the free and fair principle in local elections, that financial violation in local elections should not meet the SSM criteria first before it can be considered as valid violation.

Last but not least, the court responsible for handling electoral disputes has to be simplified. There should not be complicated procedure for administering electoral disputes: state court of first instance is sufficient to resolve any dispute, there is no need to involving higher court.

We might never find our angel-like public officials in our life time, but, at least, with local elections that correspond with the free and fair principles, we might find public officials that represent angelic qualities.[]


Author of “Carut-Marut Pilkada Serentak 2015” (“The Clutterness of Concurrent Local Elections of 2015”)