Indonesians will go to the polls in 2014 for the fourth time since the 1998 resignation of President Suharto, who presided over a centralized, authoritarian government for three uninterrupted decades and was finally ousted from power following violent protests. On April 9, Indonesians will vote for their legislators at the national, provincial, and district levels. Exactly three months later, on July 9, Indonesians will choose their next president.
These elections, which are held every five years and are run by the Indonesian Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum), are massive undertakings. The country’s voting system is complicated, and twelve political parties will vie for the attention of 190 million eligible voters. Much is at stake.
Seats on the Line
Number of seats contested in the legislative elections: 19,699
That figure includes every seat in the national, provincial, and district legislative assemblies. Indonesia’s newest province, North Kalimantan, will not be represented in any of these assemblies until 2019.
The National People’s Consultative Assembly (Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat)—the national legislature—is bicameral.
- Lower House: the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat) with 560 seats
- Upper House: the Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah) with 132 seats
Thirty-three of Indonesia’s 34 provinces have their own Provincial Legislative Assemblies (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah-I) with a combined total of 2,112 seats.
Each province is subdivided into regencies or municipalities—508 in all, though only 497 of these have their own District Legislative Assemblies (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah-II). Jakarta’s six districts and North Kalimantan’s five districts will not elect District Legislative Assemblies in 2014. A combined total of 16,895 seats are up for grabs at the district level.
Deciding Which Parties Can Compete
The number of political parties eligible to contest the general elections fell from 48 in 1999 to twelve in 2014 because Indonesia has steadily raised the bar for eligibility. The result has been an electoral system that favors large national parties.
For example, an amended election law passed by the House of Representatives in April 2012 stipulates that a party must win at least 3.5 percent of the national vote to be eligible for seats in the lower house; the requirement was 2.5 percent of the national vote in the 2009 election.
To compete in the 2014 national elections, parties must also have:
- a regional chapter in every province in the country (with a permanent office)
- a chapter in at least 75 percent of each province’s regencies or municipalities (with a permanent office)
- a chapter in at least half of each regency’s or municipality’s districts (permanent office not required)
- at least 1,000 members
The exception is the postconflict province of Aceh, where a special autonomy arrangement will allow three provincial parties to compete for seats in the provincial assembly in 2014.
The Indonesian Election Commission is notably strict about enforcing these rules. For this reason, election preparation began in August 2012, when 46 parties registered to compete in the legislative elections. By early January 2013, the Election Commission had reviewed the submitted documents and declared ten parties eligible. Two disqualified parties appealed the decision and were allowed to compete.
There is only one new party competing at the national level in 2014—all the others have previously held seats in the House of Representatives. Two new parties will compete at the provincial level in Aceh.
Campaign period for 2014 legislative elections: January 11 through April 5
- outdoor rallies, banners, large meetings, and campaign advertisements in mass media will only be allowed from March 16 to April 5
- between January 11 and March 16, meetings can have a maximum of 1,000 attendees for lower house campaigns and 250 attendees for district or city campaigns; election authorities must be given prior notification of the meetings
- campaigning will cease four days prior to the election
- April 6–8 will be set aside as a “cooling-down period”
Mechanics of the Voting Systems
Elections for the House of Representatives (the lower house), the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, and the District Legislative Assemblies all use a relatively complicated open-list proportional representation system similar to those used in Japan, Brazil, and Chile. The systems for electing members of the Regional Representative Council (the upper house) and the president are simpler.
National Level—Lower House
The House of Representatives is divided into electoral districts (either a province, a district, or a combination of districts), and each electoral district has between three and ten seats.
On voting day, voters receive a House of Representatives ballot containing a list of each party’s candidates who are running for a seat in their electoral district. Voters select their preferred candidate from the list. Each vote counts for both the party and the candidate.
The Election Commission then calculates what is known as the “quota” for each electoral district. The quota is defined as the total number of valid votes obtained by political parties that meet the national threshold for parliamentary representation (3.5 percent of the national vote) divided by the total number of seats in that electoral district. A two-round allocation system is then used to determine the winning candidates.
- In the first allocation round, parties receive a seat for each quota they meet, and the votes used to reach these quotas are then deducted from the relevant party’s total. Each party that receives seats is required to allocate them to whichever of its candidates received the most votes. Some parties may not meet the quota, and every party will have votes remaining.
- In the second allocation round, the parties are first listed in decreasing order of their remaining votes. The unallocated seats are then distributed one by one according to this sequence until all seats are filled. In the unlikely event that two parties have the same number of votes remaining when entering this round, the seat goes to the party with the wider geographic distribution in the electoral district (note that it is impossible for a party to receive more than one additional seat in this second round).
This open-list system was introduced in 2009 and is designed to do two things: give smaller parties a fair shot at obtaining a parliamentary seat and force candidates from the same party to compete against each other for votes. Before 2009, Indonesia used closed-list proportional representation in which votes were cast only for a preferred party. Seats were then allocated to parties in proportion to the votes cast, and the party (not the voters) would choose which of its members would represent the constituency.
Provincial and District Levels
The Provincial and District Legislative Assemblies have a similar seat allocation system, but a 2012 decision by the Indonesian Constitutional Court ruled that a political party does not need to meet the 3.5 percent national threshold to win a seat in these assemblies. Thus the quota for electoral districts at the provincial and district levels consists of the total valid votes cast in the district divided by the total number of seats in the district. Electoral districts for the provincial and district assemblies are made up of regencies/municipalities and subdistricts, respectively, and have between three and twelve seats.
National Level—Upper House
The Regional Representative Council uses a simpler voting system. Voters in each province choose one candidate on the provincial ballot, and the four candidates who win the most votes in each province represent it in the upper house at the national level. Although most candidates for these posts are affiliated with parties, their party affiliations are immaterial because they serve on the assembly in their personal capacities and not as party functionaries.
In the presidential election, Indonesians vote for a ticket that includes a president and vice president. The pair that receives more than 50 percent of the vote nationwide and more than 20 percent of the vote in over half the provinces wins.
If no clear winner emerges in the first round, the two front-runners (that is, the two tickets that received the highest percentage of the national vote in the first round) compete in a run-off election, which will be held in September 2014 if it is required.
Only parties and coalitions that win either 25 percent of the national vote in the election for seats in the House of Representatives or 20 percent of the seats in that body can nominate a president and a vice president (the proportional system means that the number of votes a party receives does not always correspond exactly to the number of seats it receives).
The Role of Gender
According to Article 55 in Election Law No.8/2012, at least one in every three candidates on a political party’s list must be a woman. Political parties will be barred from competing in any electoral district in which their candidate list does not meet this quota.
All twelve contesting parties met this quota at the national level—of 6,576 candidates submitted by the parties for verification, 2,434 were women.[i]At the local level, however, parties have had more difficulty meeting this requirement. The Election Commission and the Election Supervisory Body have taken this issue very seriously and have ensured that the rule is strictly observed.
After the 2009 elections, women held 18.2 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, an increase from 11 percent in 2004. For comparison, average female parliamentary representation worldwide is 20.9 percent.
Changes to the Electoral Laws
Electoral laws in Indonesia can change with little warning. In 2009, for example, just thirty-six hours before the presidential election, the Constitutional Court ruled that citizens who were not registered to vote could still do so as long as they could produce a national identity card, family card, or passport.
The probability of a significant change in the electoral laws prior to the 2014 elections is low—but not zero. Small parties have introduced a parliamentary bill to lower the bar for a party or coalition to nominate a presidential candidate to as little as 3.5 percent of the national vote. The bill is pending before parliament, but it is unlikely to be approved.
Preparing for Election Day
One reason electoral laws have changed so much since 1999 is a nationwide commitment to free and fair elections. If anything, Indonesia has moved to expand rather than restrict voter participation. The 2009 elections had their fair share of problems, including allegations of erroneous vote counting, an abandoned attempt to count votes electronically, inexperienced election staff, and improper voter registration. These were errors in implementation that reflect a lack of preparation—not examples of fraud.
A lengthier preparation process this time around will hopefully put the Election Commission on firmer footing in 2014. Whereas the Election Commission could not even begin preparing for the 2009 elections until new commissioners were appointed in November 2007, the commission was able to start the process of political party registration for the 2014 elections in August 2012.
Perhaps most important of all, at the national level, violence has not been a problem in any of Indonesia’s three post-1998 elections (there have been incidents at the local level). After the 2009 legislative elections, two of Indonesia’s largest parties called for the presidential election to be rerun. When that call was rejected by the Election Commission, the two parties accepted the decision without resorting to violence or a boycott. Usually, political parties unhappy with election results file complaints with relevant government bodies and peacefully accept the results of the adjudication.
[i] A final candidate list with 6,607 candidates has been determined by the Election Commission, but the gender breakdown has not been provided.