Fri, 26 Dec 2003

Elections replete with flaws

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

No one in this country who believes in democracy wants the 2004 elections to fail, as it is the only democratic tool to elect a legitimate government that will carry out reforms and dig the country out of its economic doldrums.

But a closer look into the ongoing election preparations suggests that there are many flaws in the process, including the failure to meet election preparation schedules, raising fears over the credibility of the whole exercise.

The House of Representatives (DPR) already endorsed the bill on general elections in February and President Megawati Soekarnoputri signed it into law the following month.

While the law was generally hailed as setting a solid foundation for a democratic election, it was creating problems for the General Elections Commission (KPU) in preparing the 2004 elections.

The problems revolve around the issue of legislative seat allocations. The law's Article 46 (2) stipulates that each electoral district will be allocated with three to 12 seats, while Article 48 (1b) states that the number of seats allotted for each province should not be less than the seats they got in the 1999 election. To make the confusion complete, Article 48 (1c) states that new provinces as the result of partitions of some provinces after the 1999 election shall be allocated three seats each. Capping the perplexity is an article in the law that puts the number of legislators at 550.

KPU members realized the difficulty in distributing the seats as soon as they were sworn in. According to KPU deputy chairman Ramlan Surbakti, it was impossible for them to distribute the 550 legislative seats without violating any article in the election law. But, any violation to the election may be exploited by political parties to undermine election results.

Already legislators from the country's easternmost province of Papua filed a complaint with the House and KPU over the commission's decision to cut its legislative seats from 13 in 1999 and 10 in 2004. The three others were given to newly established West Irian Jaya province in accordance with election law Article 48 (1c). The decision, however, violates Article 48 (1b) that says that each province, including the so-called mother province, will get the same number of legislative seats as they did in the 1999 elections.

The complaint has forced the House to seriously consider revising the Election Law, with a plan to raise the number of legislative seats from 550 to 556.

According to Ramlan, based on the number of people in provinces, some electoral districts must be allocated more than 12 seats, while some must get less seats then they got in the 1999 elections.

He also said the KPU would be forced to breach the law because of those unrealistic articles and elucidations.

"Under the state administrative law, the KPU has discretionary powers to take special measures in circumstances that were not taken into account by lawmakers during the drafting of the law. Besides, the KPU will also seek a legal opinion from the Supreme Court regarding this decision."

The commission also discovered that it must allot several existing provinces less seats than they obtained in the 1999 election due to the partitions of those province.

Provinces falling under this category include Maluku, which was split into Maluku and North Maluku; North Sulawesi, split into North Sulawesi and Gorontalo; and Papua, divided into Papua and West Irian Jaya.

The KPU has also been performing poorly in conducting public campaigns about the elections. A recent voter survey endorsed by the Asia Foundation suggested that seven out of 10 voters, or 89 percent did not know the election month.

Less than 9 percent of voters surveyed were aware that the legislative election would be held in April 2004. With regards to the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), almost two-thirds of the electorate, or 65 percent, have not heard of it or are unsure if they have, while a mere 9 percent have knowledge of the DPD's role and responsibilities

The only promising figure that the survey showed was that the percentage of voters intending to participate in the elections was high -- 91 percent for the legislative, and 93 percent for the presidential election.

Adi Abidin and Wandy N. Tuturoong of the Asia Foundation said that the findings indicated voter education campaigns must be actively carried out as the quality and the quantity of their participation would be the main indicators to measure the success of the election as well as democracy.

The KPU was scheduled to disseminate election information and educate voters at all levels between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2003, according to the commission's instruction No. 100/2003.

Other critics, including the Center for Electoral Reforms (Cetro), the Center for Regional Development Studies (PSPK) and the Center for Indonesian Law and Policy Studies (PSHK) had also said that the performance of the KPU in preparing the 2004 elections was poor, due mainly to a number of extensions of the elections preparation schedule.

Among the extended election preparations were the national population and voter census that was extended two weeks from April 30, the announcement of party administrative and factual verification that was extended several days from the initial schedules and the publication of electoral district mapping that was also extended from the initial Oct. 13 deadline.

The KPU, along with the government, has said election preparations were still on track.

KPU chairman Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin said that some extensions in the election preparations were due to inevitable external factors such as security problem in Aceh and Maluku during the population and voter census, and plans to revise the Elections Law to increase seats in the House.

He claimed the KPU had almost finished over 30 instructions required to implement the Election Law. According to www., at least 25 instructions had been made by the KPU. Regarding the poor election regulations, there was nothing people could do about it except wait for the planned revision of the Election Law to be realized.

But for the KPU, it should take more active efforts to improve the preparations of the elections, particularly to educate the public and remain on schedule. Those efforts are necessary to make the 2004 elections a success.

graphics: seats allocation for each province and electoral districts!