Indonesian govt defends direct elections

Power to the people: Regents and mayors attending a conference in Jakarta on Thursday demonstrate their opposition to a bill that aims to restore an authoritarian system and give provincial and regional legislative councils (DPRDs) the power to elect local heads of government.

The government will arrange a high-ranking lobby of political party leaders to endorse the direct election of local heads in an attempt to stave off the moves by a majority of factions at the House of Representatives to abolish the mechanism.

As of Thursday, six factions, comprising the Democratic Party, the Golkar Party, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the National Mandate Party (PAN), the United Development Party (PPP) and the Gerindra Party were still insisting on pushing the proposal to bring back elections through provincial and regional legislative councils (DPRDs).

The six factions are all members of the Red-and-White Coalition of parties that supported losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in the July presidential election.

Only the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Hanura Party, all of which belong to president-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's Gotong Royong Coalition, are seeking to keep the direct-election system.

"We are still working on reaching common ground on the matter. I can see some of us appear to be reconsidering and reviewing [their stance]. The decision is not final," the Home Ministry's director general of regional autonomy, Djohermansyah Djohan, said on the sidelines of a closed-door discussion on the regional election bill on Thursday.

Djohermansyah further expressed his confidence in a change of heart among critics of the direct-election system, highlighting that the fate of the system to elect regional heads would be in the hands of party leaders. "It would be good if we can meet [party leaders] to talk about it. So, arranging a high-level meeting appears to be an excellent idea," he said.

The plan to abolish the direct election of local heads was initially promoted by the government through an amendment to the 2004 Regional Elections Law, against the wishes of a majority of political factions that had previously preferred to maintain the direct-election system.

As the legislation progressed after the presidential election, the government swung back to supporting direct elections, along with the Gotong Royong Coalition led by the PDI-P.

Outside the House, however, the Gotong Royong's stance has more support. Regional heads, who have often benefited from the direct-election system in the past decade, have defended direct voting as an essential factor in resisting the hegemony of political parties.

In his defense of the current direct elections, and in opposition to his former party, Gerindra, outspoken Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama recently resigned from the party. He has been supported by other regional heads.

On Thursday, regional heads, through their associations - the Regency Administrations Association (Apkasi) and the Association of the Indonesian City Administrations (Apeksi) - gathered in Jakarta to solidify a plan to support the Home Ministry in upholding direct elections.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, whose candidacy was backed by Gerindra and the PKS in 2013, is in open opposition to the political parties that once supported him.

"The Constitution states that the country's sovereignty lies in the people's hands," he said.

Kutai Timur Regent and Apkasi chairman Isran Noor argued that if the House's Commission II overseeing domestic governance abolished direct elections, instability in local administrations would ensue.

"I saw the implementation of indirect regional elections [through the DPRDs]. At that time, many regents and mayors were under the control of DPRDs because they felt indebted to the members of the regional councils," Isran, who also leads the Democratic Party's East Kalimantan chapter, said.

Besides Isran, several other regional heads, who are members of parties in the Red-and-White Coalition, have also voiced their rejection of the plan, regardless of the consequences.

The regent of Solok, West Sumatra, Syamsu Rahim, a Golkar member, said he was prepared to be dismissed by his party in his fight for the people's rights. "The people can correctly judge our capacities, while regional legislators only judge us on a monetary basis," Syamsu said.

The mayor of Bogor, West Java, Bima Arya Sugiarto of PAN concurred. He said elections in which only members of the DPRDs got to vote were not good for Indonesia's democracy as they would eliminate the chance for the people to directly interact with their regional leaders.

"Political parties should listen to the people's voice," he said, adding that PAN would hold a meeting to discuss its position regarding the bill on Thursday night, and he hoped the party's stance would change.