Election law comes under scrutiny again in Indonesia

Billboards featuring prominent presidential hopefuls have cropped up on the streets of Jakarta, Surabaya and other cities since last year . PHOTO: ELANG PRATAMA

JAKARTA - Indonesia's Constitutional Court is again being asked to rule on legislation that sets a minimum standard for any political party or coalition wanting to field candidates for vice-president and president.

The law stipulates that only those with 20 per cent of seats in Parliament or secured 25 per cent of the popular vote in the last general election can qualify to field such candidates.

Those opposed to the threshold say it is unfair, less democratic and against the Constitution. But those in favour have argued that it ensures quality candidates and a less complicated electoral process.

The Constitutional Court, which has powers to review - upon request from the public - and revoke any stipulation in a law deemed to be against the country's 1945 Constitution, recently received a number of petitions opposing the threshold.

The flood of petitions comes as unofficial campaigning kicks off, two years ahead of presidential and legislative polls which will be held tentatively on Feb 28, 2024.

Under the rule, only one of the nine political parties in the national Parliament - the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) - currently qualifies to field a single ticket for president and vice-president. The others will need to pair with one or two other parties to do so.

The most recent petition, which was filed last week by civil servant Ikhwan Mansyur Situmeang, said that the presidential threshold deprived eligible citizens of their constitutional right to have more candidates in the presidential poll. Mr Ikhwan added that the rule - applied for the first time in the 2009 presidential election - "amputated" the role of political parties to select and provide future leaders, as mandated by the Constitution.

Last week's petition followed a number of others, which included that filed by two members of the Regional Representative Council (DPD), Mr Fachrul Razi and Mr Bustami Zainudin. The 136 non-partisan DPD members represent Indonesia's 34 provinces and along with members of the House of Representatives (DPR) make up Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly or the MPR.

Former law and human rights vice-minister Denny Indrayana, who has also filed a petition on behalf of 27 Indonesians living overseas, including in the United States, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore, claimed the presidential threshold serves to sustain a political oligarchy.

In the middle of last month, former armed forces commander Gatot Nurmantyo in his petition made reference to the previous presidential poll in 2019, saying that the nation became politically polarised, with voters split between two strong candidates.

The 2019 poll was a rerun of the 2014 election, with the same two candidates contesting. President Joko Widodo, who was seeking re-election for a second and final term, was up against Mr Prabowo Subianto, and the contest laid bare divisions between Islamist forces and pluralists in the vast country. Mr Prabowo later joined Mr Widodo's government as a minister, easing tensions in the grassroots.

The Constitutional Court is made up of nine members, with Parliament, President, and the Supreme Court nominating an equal number of members to the bench every five years. It has previously dealt with similar petitions, rejecting a number of them.

But there have been dissenting opinions, such as in a ruling in 2008 when three judges, among other things, noted that the 1945 Constitution made no mention of any threshold figure.

In the next presidential poll in 2024, contenders will not face an incumbent, who typically enjoys a huge advantage over challengers. President Widodo is serving his second five-year term and is barred from seeking re-election under the Constitution.

Billboards featuring prominent presidential hopefuls have cropped up on the streets of Jakarta, Surabaya and other cities since last year. Many of the aspirants who are currently holding public office have also made overtures to garner support from the grassroots.

Most of those canvassing are from the pluralist camp, raising fears of a split in the pluralist vote. They include Mr Airlangga Hartarto, 58, the country's chief economics minister; Mr Erich Thohir, 51, the state-owned enterprise minister; and Mr Ganjar Pranowo, 53, Central Java governor.

There is only one prominent figure so far from the Islamist camp, Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan.

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