South East Asian Headlines & Breaking News

Indonesian Court Throws Out Bid to Change Electoral System

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Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has rejected a lawsuit seeking a change to the country’s election ballot system, which would likely have delayed next year’s presidential election.

The petition, which was filed by six politicians including several from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), sought an amendment to the 2017 General Election Law in order to restore the closed ballot list system that Indonesia used prior to 2008, in which voters cast a single ballot for the party of their choice.

In a ruling yesterday, seven out of the eight Constitutional Court judges voted to dismiss the lawsuit, with Reuters quoting one as saying that the court’s view was that an open system boosts “healthy competition” and “provides flexibility to the voters.”

Yesterday’s ruling means that when voters select the representatives of national and regional legislatures in February 2024 they will do so under its existing open-list voting system, which allows voters to vote either for a party or for a specific candidate. The most immediate impact of the ruling, however, is that it rules out any delay to the election, which would almost certainly have occurred had the court accepted the petition, given the time required to prepare the changes.

The plaintiffs filed the petition in November last year, arguing that the current open-list format encouraged vote-buying and weakened political parties, a claim that seems to have at least some merit.

But the timing and nature of the attempt to change the system has encountered resistance from all sides of Indonesian politics with, eight of the nine parties in Jokowi’s big tent governing coalition coming out against it. The move has also been opposed by much of Indonesian civil society.

The judges appeared to agree. According to a report in the South China Morning Post, they “rejected the legal challenge in its entirety” and added that “the choice of any electoral system has the same potential for the practice of money politics.”

While the open-list format is vulnerable to vote-buying, Justice Saldi Isra reportedly said, the closed-list system is similarly prone to “nomination-buying,” in which candidates bribe parties to be placed on party lists and win an election without having to establish any relationship with their constituencies. The judge said that the main issue was in “the management of the political parties and their candidates themselves,” in the Post’s paraphrase, and that there were other ways to curb the influence of money in politics – something that was up to policymakers, not the courts.

-The Diplomat

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