Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reorganizing Local Direct Elections for Regional Heads

Writer by : Cecep Efendi
The writer is the deputy principal advisor from the German Technical Cooperation Advisory Services Support for Decentralization at the Home Ministry, a member of the drafting team working on local direct elections law and a member of the review team of political laws at the vice presidential office.
Published by : The Jakarta Post, 17 Desember 2009.

A GOVERNOR from eastern Indonesia complained about the difficulty of handling district heads and city majors in his province. He said he regularly published progress reports about each district and city in his province.

Some districts performed well, some did not, but despite their performances, he said, district heads generally won local elections in their respective regions because they used the local government
budget for their own benefit by pouring money into generous social programs that increased their

Over the next six months (until May 2010), a series of local direct elections (PILKADA-SUNG) will be organized in seven provinces, 204 districts and 35 cities.

In total 246 districts/cities and provinces are going to hold local direct elections.

As in every direct local election, the news media will publish reports about the problems that are always connected to these elections.

Problems such as chaotic and fixed electoral lists, pre-campaign activities organized by incumbents disguised as social welfare and charity programs, the use of money politics by both the incumbents as well as other candidates, inter-party politics between the local branches against the provincial as well as national headquarters in connection with candidates approved by the national party headquarters, but rejected by the local party branch, as well as claims and counterclaims by the losers and winners of direct local elections calling for an election rerun.

All these problems inevitably arise during local elections.

The Local Elections Commission (KPUD) is not free from problems either. Internal conflict within the KPUD, where members of the commission sided with one of the contenders forced the General Elections Commission (KPU) to set things straight.

Local direct elections, a process whereby people have the power to decide who is going to be their leader, are also tarnished by public demonstrations that in some cases lead to violent protests in the region as well as at KPUD offices.

Policymakers both in the government as well as in the parliament tend to focus their attention on to how to respond to the problems above.

As a result, national decision makers concentrate mostly on these technical issues, such as how to organize local elections that are free from money politics, local government civil servants working for the benefit of the incumbents, invalid electoral lists and political instability, while encouraging the KPU to manage its apparatus in the regions to work professionally.

Fundamental questions such as whether direct elections have so far been successful in ensuring that only are those candidates with the capacity to lead and improve people’s welfare and deliver public services can be elected has not been given proper attention.

The other critical question that is also ignored is whether local elections have so far been successful in creating local political systems based on dynamic checks and balances between the heads of the regions and the local legislative councils.

Data shows that people’s participation (voter turnout) in local elections is generally much lower than in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Voters seemingly do not believe that candidates can bring about fundamental changes in the improvement of people’s welfare and public services, while candidates also fail to generate public interest by offering concrete and thoughtful programs.

The time has come for the government and the parliament to re-examine the effectiveness of conducting local direct elections.

Then effectiveness of local elections can be measured by a number of indicators.

The first indicator is whether the fact that local direct elections are conducted separately from parliamentary elections and the presidential election is responsible for the low voter turnout.

Certainly the cost of organizing local elections has become a serious financial burden for local governments.

The cost of organizing local elections for the East Java province is estimated at Rp 6 trillion. A fantastically large amount for a developing country like Indonesia to spend on elections.

The second indicator is how to conduct local elections that will help build a local political system that will bring about an effective government.

An effective government at the local level is needed to ensure that government programs such as the Minimum Service Standards, especially in the education and health sectors, can really be implemented.

A survey by Tempo magazine showed that only those district heads and city mayors that had a constructive partnership with their local assembly could deliver these goals.

Effective local direct elections can also be implemented through regrouping local direct elections and organizing them simultaneously with either the parliamentary or presidential elections.

The first grouping could be called local elections, which would include local direct elections and local parliamentary elections (both district/city and province).

In this grouping local direct elections would be conducted together with parliamentary elections at the local level, while national elections, which consist of parliamentary elections as well as the presidential election would be scheduled for a different time.

The second grouping could be known as executive elections, where local direct elections could be conducted simultaneously with the presidential election, while parliamentary elections both at the national and local level could be held together at a different time.

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