Mon, 07 Jul 2003

Presidential elections bill favors only big parties

Kurniawan Hari The Jakarta Post Jakarta

The decision made by the factions in the House of Representatives (DPR) to maintain limitations on presidential candidacy contradicts the 1945 Constitution and may deter opportunities for a real change, away from the leaders of the larger parties, political observers said on Saturday.

Director of the Center for Electoral Reform (CETRO) Smita Notosusanto and political analyst Saldi Isra of Andalas University in Padang, West Sumatra, opposed the limitations.

They said the quota for political parties to nominate presidential candidates would restrict small parties.

Smita and Saldi also criticized the lack of articles in the bill which enabled the public to monitor the campaign funding for each presidential candidate.

The lack of public control of campaign funds would make it much easier for the wealthier parties to seize the presidency.

Both analysts were commenting on the agreement by the nine House factions over the much-anticipated presidential elections bill. The bill is slated for endorsement on Monday.

The home ministry proposed that only political parties or coalitions of parties with at least 20 percent of votes (or 15 percent of seats) in the House should be allowed to nominate presidential candidates, but made an exception for the 2004 election (3 percent seats or 5 percent of votes).

Given the ministry's requirement, there could be only a maximum of five candidates for the 2004 election.

After a series of negotiations, the nine factions in the House and the government agreed to the special exception for the 2004 election.

"Still, that stipulation limits the choices of candidates available to the public," Smita told The Jakarta Post.

Some political analysts have said that without a limitation, there would be over 30 presidential candidates to be voted on, with more obscure candidates given an opportunity.

Saldi, meanwhile, said that the limitation contradicted the 1945 Constitution because Article 6A, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution states that presidential candidates and their running mates can be nominated by any party or group of parties contesting the elections.

He expressed fear that once the bill was passed into law, one of the small parties could call for a review and this would disrupt the elections.

Apart from criticizing the limit on candidates, analysts have also protested the lack of articles allowing public monitoring of election campaign funds.

A coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for political laws has repeatedly called for transparency and a limitation of campaign funds.

The coalition suggested that the bank accounts for campaign funds of each candidate should have equal amounts with all expenses recorded clearly.

"Transparency will ensure public knowledge of the spending of each candidate," Smita added.

Smita emphasized that a direct presidential election would be won by a candidate with the greatest campaign fund to buy airtime and ads in the media.

The House factions, however, ignored the demand of the coalition and decided not to limit the amount of campaign funds.

Smita reiterated that the lack of a campaign fund cap would sideline candidates without big budgets.