The Red-and-White Coalition, led by losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, is fighting for a return to the Soeharto-era election regime when governors, regents and mayors were not directly elected by the people.
In an unprecedented move, a majority of House of Representatives members have voiced support for a proposal seeking the return of the regional-election system based on voting by members of the Regional Legislative Councils (DPRDs).
Prior to the presidential election on July 9, the coalition had agreed to maintain the system of direct election in the regional election bill.
Prabowo's Gerindra Party, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party, the Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the United Development Party (PPP) have joined forces to fight for a representative-based election system before the current House term expires on Sept. 30.
The number of House votes controlled by the coalition dwarfs that of president-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's camp, which is seeking to maintain the direct-voting system.
Jokowi's camp includes the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Hanura Party.
Even support from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a member of Prabowo's coalition, for keeping the voting system unchanged is insufficient.
"We believe that the DPRDs should take over the voting power from the people to prevent vote buying," Gerindra Party central executive board deputy head Martin Hutabarat said on Friday.
"If the voting is through a DPRD, then it is relatively easy to monitor and control by the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK]. This is in accordance with the anti-corruption spirit," he said.
Martin said candidates seeking to lead regions could spend hundreds of billions of rupiah to fund their election campaigns, which usually led to them resorting to graft to recoup their investments.
Direct elections for regions were first introduced in 2005 after the fall of the Soeharto dictatorship in 1998 paved the way for a set of laws and regulations that strengthened regional autonomy, including the direct-election system for regional leaders.
In surprise move Red-and-White Coalition opts to end direct elections for regional leaders Coalition claims voting by DPRDs alone will end graft in regions
The system has since provided an opportunity for the emergence of a number of reform-minded leaders, such as Jokowi, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, and former West Sumatra governor Gamawan Fauzi, now the home minister.
Gamawan, who is leading the government's team on the bill deliberation, said he would not fight to keep the current regional-election system during the upcoming discussion with the House on Sept. 11.
"The government will not insist [on maintaining the current system]. If we agree to maintain it, then there should be cost efficiency [in the organising of elections]," he said.
"There should also be a review of the system as there are around 330 regional leaders who have already ended up in prison because of graft."
When asked if representative-based elections would undermine the blossoming democracy, Gamawan argued that the 1945 Constitution had never stipulated direct elections.
"There's no guarantee that representative-based elections would be free from bribery. But for sure, controlling a few is easier than controlling many," said Gamawan.
PKB legislator Abdul Malik Haramain said there was still hope the Jokowi coalition could persuade Prabowo's camp to abandon the proposal. "If we fail, we will bring the bill to the plenary meeting to be decided through voting," said Abdul, adding that the bill needed to be passed soon as 202 regions across the country were scheduled to hold elections next year and would need new legal guidance.
University of Indonesia sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola said that Prabowo's maneuvers in the bill deliberation were a form of revenge.
Thamrin said the idea of returning the voting mechanism to the DPRD was absurd as history showed that councillors were actually more prone to vote buying.
"It's better for Prabowo's coalition to forget the bitterness of losing, and think of the greater good. Don't try to sabotage everything that the other camp seeks to achieve," he said.