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The Reasons Behind The Increase of Single Candidate in Local Elections

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Out of 101 electoral areas that will hold the 2017 Local Elections, there are six areas with only one candidate participation. In the previous 2015 Local Elections, with 269 electoral areas, there are only three areas with single candidate participation. The increase of single candidacy in local elections is due to the fact that legislators has made it more difficult for independent candidate (candidate that does not come from political party) to participate in election through stricter requirements and regulations. The Constitutional Court decided to order the Election Commission (KPU) to proceed with the single-candidacy elections. However, such elections have resulted in the continuing domination of incumbent local administrative leaders. Concurrent local elections is the solution to prevent single-candidacy in elections.

In West Tulang Bawang Regency (in the Province of Lampung), the single candidate is supported by all political parties in local parliament. There are three other electoral areas in which the single candidate is backed-up by all parties in parliament: Landak Regency (the Province of West Kalimantan), Tambrauw (West Papua), and Pati (Central Java). In other two areas, the single candidate is backed by more than 75% of political parties: Tebingtinggi (North Sumatera) and Buton (Souteast Sulawesi).

The Law No.10/2016 on Local Elections regulates that every candidate proposed by political party or coalition of political parties shall have at least a certain percentage of seats in parliament. In Article 40, it is stated that the political parties shall at least have 20 percent of seats in the local parliament or 25 percent of votes acquisition in the last legislative election.

Basically, the system of candidacy in local elections of 2015, 2017, and 2018 are similar. All elections have the same potentiality to produce single-candidate elections. Firstly, the plurality election system (one-round election) forces political parties to ignore candidate with low electability rate even though the candidate might have better quality.

Secondly, the strict requirements for independent candidate. Thirdly, the regulation that requires incumbent candidate to step down from his/her current position hinders political party to nominate its best cadre because the cadre does not want to bet on losing his/her position in legislative branch for the promise of a position in the executive branch.

The Requirements for Independent Candidate Are Getting Stricter

Generally, the Law No.10/2016 has made it harder for independent candidate to participate in local elections. Article 41 of the Law states that any independent candidate shall collect a certain amount of signatures from eligible voters in an electoral area.

In a province with total population of less than 2 million people, the candidate shall collect signatures for at least 10% of total population. In a province with total population between 2 million and 6 million, 8.5%. In a province with total population between 6 million to 12 million, 7.5%. And in a province with total population of more than 12 million, 6.5%.

There is also additional requirement. Point e of the Article 41 states that the signatures shall be collected from more than 50% of total regencies or municipalities in the province. At the regency/municipality level, this provision is based on the number of sub-districts in the regency or municipality.

Political scientist from the University of Indonesia, Ikhsan Darmawan, explains, the Law No.10/2016 has indeed made it difficult for citizen to participate in election as candidate. Many politicians will think twice longer before deciding to participate in election.

In order to fulfill all of those requirements, a politician should spend a lot of money. Mere good will and strong commitment will not do.

Empty Solution of Bumbung Kosong

The other reason behind the increase of single candidate in local elections is the decision made by the Constitutional Court in 2015 to order KPU to proceed with the election process in area with only one candidate. Before the 2015 Local Elections, electoral area with only one candidate has to postpone the electoral process until there is another candidate come along.

Such condition is often exploited by political party by keep on postponing the election until the electability rate of the single candidate is significantly dropping. To prevent such practice, the single candidate often nominate another false candidate just so the election process can be proceeded.

The Constitutional Court then decided to proceed all elections in electoral areas with only one candidate by competing the candidate with “bumbung kosong” (“empty bamboo vessel”). This practice is inspired by election practice at village level, where a single candidate is often competing against empty bamboo vessel due to the lack of contender. However, the decision to implement this practice does not necessarily resolve the main problem: low quality of electoral candidates available.

With bumbung kosong, voters will have to vote “yes” or “no” options on their ballot. The single candidate will win the election if most voters (50% + 1 vote) choose the “yes” option. Meanwhile, if the majority choose the “no” option, the election will have to be postponed to the next local election period.

This practice perpetuates incumbent domination in an area. Many political parties most likely will refrain from nominating a candidate in an area where the incumbent is too dominant.

Concurrent Elections As the Solution

In addition to loosening up the requirements and regulations for independent candidate, KPU can also implement concurrent local elections to reduce single candidacy election. The Secretariat for the Election Law Codification Initiative (the Secretariat), which consisted of many civil society organizations and election experts, recommends KPU to concurrently hold the local legislative elections with the election for governorship and regent/city mayor.

Concurrent election is a type of election implementation where the legislative and executive elections are held concurrently on the same day. The purpose is to establish an effective executive governments that fully supported by members of the parliament. Such condition is achieved because there tend to be a coattail effect in concurrent election, where voters are most likely choosing legislative candidates or political party that support the preferred executive candidate.

With concurrent local elections, political parties are encouraged to nominate their candidate for election, because they have the interest to win seats in parliament by nominating their candidate in local elections.

The innate character of concurrent elections hinders the possibility of single candidacy. Political party will suffer political loss if they do not nominate a candidate.

Unfortunately, most policy makers do not agree with this idea. Other than refusing to loosen up the requirements and regulations for independent candidate, policy makers also does not consider local elections as a part of the electoral regime, but as a part of local government regime. This is why we might still have to face many cases of single candidacy in the near future. []


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