Indonesia must hold joint polls from 2019

INDONESIA'S constitutional court yesterday ruled that holding separate polls for Parliament and president - as has been done in the past two elections - was against the spirit of the Constitution.

But it said this year's elections will carry on as scheduled to avoid disrupting a process that is already under way.

Simultaneous elections will start from 2019, the eight-man court ruled, in striking out sections of the presidential election law.

However, the court, led by Judge Hamdan Zoelva, stressed that this year's elections will remain valid and constitutional.

The landmark decision reduces uncertainty over a possible delay to the April9 elections for Parliament, and drew support across the political spectrum as a middle way out that would prevent instability as some 190 million eligible voters head to the ballot box.

National Awakening Party (PKB) deputy secretary-general Abdul Malik Haramain told reporters: "I appreciate the ruling that weighed up the social and political aspects (to the matter), not just the judicial aspect."

Changing the process this year, the court said, "could disrupt the conduct of the 2014 election and surface legal uncertainty, which is not desirable".

The presidential election is scheduled for July, and set to be fiercely contested as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is not allowed to stand for a third term.

National elections are held every five years.

Before 2004, there was one election for Parliament, and the president was then elected by Parliament.

The current arrangement, which saw voters elect MPs and a president three months apart in 2004 and 2009, came about as part of democratic reforms after the rule of strongman Suharto ended in 1998.

In its 92-page ruling, the court said the current practice fails to produce checks and balances that work, and does not strengthen the presidential system.

The court noted that presidential and vice-presidential candidates have to form tactical coalitions with political parties, which result in constant bargaining.

Having joint elections, it argued, would be more efficient, save costs and allow voters to vote more wisely.

But yesterday's ruling drew criticism that it was politically motivated to safeguard the interests of major political parties.

"Why was it not read out much earlier? Why only now?" political communications academic Effendi Gazali, who filed the challenge to the presidential election law early last year, told reporters at the court.

Former constitutional court chief Mahfud MD said much of the deliberation on the case had been decided early last year.

Earlier this week, election commissioner Hadar Gumay also said whichever way the court ruled, the commission would have to work to ensure smooth elections.

The verdict comes two days after former law minister and state secretary Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who heads the Crescent Star Party (PBB), filed a separate challenge to the law.

Professor Yusril sought a decision on simultaneous elections, and also challenged the validity of the requirement for a presidential threshold which requires parties to have 25 per cent of the popular vote or 20 per cent of seats in Parliament before they can field a presidential candidate.

The court ruling yesterday did not address the issue of this requirement which, if struck out, could see a more crowded field of presidential contenders in July.

But Judge Maria Farida Indrati, in a dissenting opinion, said this criterion could still apply with simultaneous elections, but should be left to lawmakers to decide.


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