February 23, 2024

The Paradox of Concurrent Elections in Indonesia

Concurrent elections is implemented so that we can have a more effective presidential system. However, the implementation of concurrent elections in Indonesia might become a paradox if we put it in the context of Indonesian election system as specified in Law No.7/2017. It is folly to expect concurrent elections will make the presidential election more democratic within the context of that legal framework.

Technically, concurrent elections is implemented in order to maximize the coattail effect during voting process. Voters are tend to elect a president and the political party of which the president is a member. As the consequence, concurrent elections will resulted in a more effective presidential system where the president is heavily supported by the parties in parliament.

Many provisions contained in Law No.7/2017 will effectively cancel that coattail effect. This is because the election system has rendered political parties in parliament so powerful that they can practically decide who will probably win the presidential election. Law No.7/2017 has made Indonesian political system to be more like a parliamentary system that presidential system with direct democracy.

The Presidential Threshold

The provision on presidential threshold is the primary paradox for Indonesia’s presidential system in Law No.7/2017. By maintaining the threshold for presidential candidacy, where a party can only propose a presidential candidate if they own at least 20 percent of the parliamentary seats or gained at least 25 percent of votes in the previous legislative elections, the government with Law No.7/2017 is practically severing the ties between the elected president and his/her constituents. This means, the electability of political party will be the definitive factor for presidential electability.

Ideally, in a presidential system, voters should be allowed to directly elect their president, and the presidential electability is the definitive factor for parliamentary electability. The coattail effect should stem from the presidential candidate to affect the parliamentary electability, not the other way around. Joko Widodo should be the one who increases the electability of PDI-P, not the other way around.

The presidential threshold as contained in Law 7/2017 has violated people’s aspiration for a better leader. With the threshold, political party may now ignore high-electability of a candidate if they wsih to do so. At the end of the day, voters may never elect their ideal president because the candidate may not have the chance to participate in election without the permission granted by political party.

As long as there is presidential threshold, the elected presidential will always bear a great debt of gratitude to political party. As the consequence, the elected president is not directly accountable to its constituents, even though the voters are directly voting for him/her.

District Magnitude

The second paradox is the provision on district magnitude. Law 7/2017 preserves the provision on district magnitude as contained in the previous elections law (Law 8/2012), which is 3 to 10 seats per electoral area. This provision is detrimental to presidential system because such high district magnitude will render the parliamentary to be highly fragmented.

The result of the 2014 National Elections is similar with the result of Brasil’s 2014 Elections, where the president’s party only won a small portion of parliamentary seats, and the opposition parties dominated the rest. Based on ENPP method, the rate of parliamentary fragmentation in Indonesia’s parliament is currently at 8.2 (3 or 4 is the ideal), the highest fragmentation ever in Indonesian history.

Scott Mainwaring (1993) hypothesizes that any country with presidential system but also implementing multi-party system will never be successful in running a country because the executive leader (president) is hand-tied by the fragmented parliament. Eric C. C. Chang and Miriam A. Golden (2005) also discover that high district magnitude increases the probability of corruption.

Voting for Candidates, Not for Political Party

The third paradox is the fact that the Law 7/2017 mandates the election management body (EMB) to keep implementing open-list proportional election system. This particular election system, however, will render the coattail effect to be ineffective.

This is because, when voters are provided with a long list of legislative candidates and presidential candidates, they will tend to vote for candidates based on their competence. Meanwhile, when they are provided with a list of political parties and presidential candidates, they will tend to choose political party that has a direct linkage with the presidential candidate.

This is what actually happened in the 2014 National Elections. The “Jokowi Effect” did not effectively raise the vote acquisition for PDI-P not only because the legislative elections and presidential election were run separately, but also because the voters were provided with a list of individual candidates instead of political parties. Before the election, many polling result showed how the Jokowi Effect had increased the votes for PDI-P by 30 percent. However, many people forgot that, during the survey, the respondents were asked to choose between a presidential candidate and a political party.

PDI-P eventually only received 18 percent of the votes. Even if the 2014 National Elections was run concurrently, the Jokowi Effect would never increase the votes acquisition of PDI-P, as long as we still use open-list proportional system.