As Indonesia prepares next week for its mammoth elections involving 193 million potential voters, Ella Prihatini (UWA) examines the wisdom of crowding so much into a single day of voting. She notes that the financial and efficiency rationales are weak in practice, and that the downsides include hidden disadvantage for women as both electors and candidates. A rethink might be on the cards for future elections. Shamit Saggar
Indonesia votes: the troubles with simultaneous elections
In the next couple of days, Australia's closest neighbour will hold a five-year 'festival of democracy'. As a country that has just implemented open and direct democracy since 1999, Indonesia is still experimenting with the rules of the election. One of the experiments contained in the 2017 Electoral Law is related to the holding of elections simultaneously in one day.
If in 2014 the legislative elections were carried out three months earlier than the presidential race, this year legislative and presidential elections were held on the same day, making it is as "one of the most complicated single-day elections in global history" (Bland, 2019). More than 245,000 legislative candidates are competing for more than 20,000 seats distributed at the national and regional levels.
This new approach derived from the Constitutional Court’s decision which ruled that having legislative and presidential elections separately violates the 1945 Constitution (KataData, 2018) and while others suggest that single-day elections will save government expenses in financing the election (Iqbal, 2018). However, in this essay, I will explain the troubles following concurrent elections.
As an archipelagic country with a vast territory, voting certainly faces challenges that are not easy to solve. Transportation, communication and logistical allocation constraints are a series of complexities that must be faced by the organizers. The number of polls has increased from 500,000 in 2014, to more than 800,000. This increase was at the request of the General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum/KPU), which estimated the duration of voting would be longer than in 2014, and thus the polling stations had to be added in order to avoid long queues of voters.
With the number of eligible voters reaching 193 million, the single-day elections approach is, in fact, costing the government more. The election budget jumped 61 per cent, from 15,6 trillion Rupiahs (AUD 1.5 billion) in the previous term to 25.3 trillion Rupiahs (AUD 2.5 billion). Some expenses that significantly soared included security, supervision, and wages for officers (CNN Indonesia, 2019).
We now understand that having elections on the same day failed to bring costs down. But there are bigger problems than just the budget. With elections becoming overtly occupied by the presidential race, all the energy during this longest campaign period in Indonesia (23 September 2018 to 13 April 2019) has been absorbed by the competition of who should run the country.
This leaves little to no room for legislative candidates to promote their own programs. I have heard from numerous female candidates running for the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat/DPR) that the single-day elections approach has brought a huge disadvantage for those competing for a parliamentary seat.
“Female candidates are experiencing it the worse," said one of the interviewees. "The cost to run is exponentially more expensive due to the long period of campaigning, and we’ve been asked by the party to also promote presidential candidates."
In my observation, the campaign for the importance of choosing female legislators has been swept away by the presidential race. Female candidates have to fight more creatively so their campaigns are heard and gain more attention from potential voters. Some of them are using social media platforms to disseminate their programs, hoping their virtual presence will appeal to voters.
However, I would argue that the single-day elections approach is something that need to reconsider in the longer run. Not only because it is economically far less efficient, but because it undermines the importance for the voters to get to know their legislative candidates better. There is no doubt it is imminent to scrutinise presidential candidates’ promises, but it should not take away the gravity of electing representatives.
Ella S Prihatini is a teaching fellow at the UWA School of Social Sciences. She holds a BA in International Relations (University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta) and a Master of Development Practice (University of Queensland, Brisbane). Her recently submitted thesis investigates women's parliamentary representation in Asia with Indonesia as a case study. Ella's research interests focus on gender and electoral politics, comparative studies, and the utilisation of social media in Indonesia. Her study at UWA is fully supported by the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship program (2015-2019). She has published her works in Women's Studies International Forum, Contemporary Politics, and Politics & Gender. She is also a regular contributor for The Conversation and SBS Radio Australia.