Indonesia reinstates direct local elections

Indonesia reinstates direct local elections
Outgoing Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (L) walks next to incoming Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) during a visit at the presidential palace in Jakarta.

INDONESIA - Yesterday's reversal came after MPs in the outgoing Parliament passed a Bill last September to scrap direct elections for local leaders in a move seen as a setback to Indonesia's democratisation as well as to newly elected President Joko Widodo.

Then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came under fire because a walkout by MPs from his Democratic Party had allowed the legislation to go through. He issued an emergency decree - known as a perppu in short - soon after, to cancel the controversial legislation.

The move, allowed in the Indonesian system, sent the legislation back to Parliament, which voted yesterday to make the perppu a permanent law.

Dr Yudhoyono took office in 2004 as the country's first directly elected president.

In 2005, direct elections were also held for district chiefs, city mayors and provincial governors across Indonesia. Until then, the office- holders were picked by the respective local assemblies and this, critics said, made them beholden to the assemblymen instead.

Yesterday's outcome was cheered by political analysts, including Mr Arie Sudjito of the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta.

"This is a victory of the people. It saves democracy," Mr Arie told tribunenews.com

Lawyer Teguh Santosa told The Straits Times: "The direct election system is the best choice. We have to guard this so it will always stay this way going forward. Don't let anyone try to change it again."

Mr Teguh and other observers also saw it as a political victory for Mr Joko, whose Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle does not command a majority in Parliament.

The leaders of the main opposition parties - Gerindra and Golkar - said last month that they supported direct elections after the Democrats threatened to leave the opposition coalition.

Under the just-ratified perppu, local elections must all be held simultaneously across Indonesia for efficiency. Those who want to contest the elections must be able to stand up to public scrutiny and pass tests for integrity before they can do so.

After the vote, Speaker Setya Novanto pledged to revise clauses in the perppu that stipulate February as the month for simultaneous five-yearly direct elections to take place. The National Election Commission has proposed that all local elections be held at the same time in December this year.

"The passing of the perppu is part of the success brought about by the people's movement. When SBY (Dr Yudhoyono) issued the perppu, it was because of public pressure. People want to stick with direct elections," Ms Titi Anggraini, executive director of Perludem, a Jakarta-based think-tank that promotes fair elections and democracy, told The Straits Times.

"Our next job now is to ensure that those candidates running in the elections are leaders who have quality and integrity."


This article was first published on January 21, 2015.
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