When Cards Are on the Table The debate on the Legislative General Elections Bill enters its final

stage. There is no consensus about six of the issues yet. SINCE two weeks ago, Novotel Hotel on the fringe of Bogor, West Java, has become an arena of political talks. Seventeen members of the General Elections Bill formulating team have moved their office there. “We meet every day until almost midnight,” said Agus Purnomo, a member of the Justice & Prosperity Party (PKS) faction. It is natural for the members of the House of Representatives (DPR) to work extra hard. When the Special Committee on the Elections Bill was formed in June last year, its Chairman, Ferry Mursyidan Baldan, boasted that the regulation as the basis for the holding of the 2009 General Elections would be ready to be endorsed in December 2007. Now, three weeks have gone beyond the deadline. With this delay, many circles fear that the smooth implementation of elections next year is threatened. Moreover—even after intensive discussions—until the end of last week the bill was far from finished. “Of the inventory of 1,300 issues to be resolved, we have only reached item number 420,” said Andi Yuliani Paris, Deputy Chairman of the Elections Bill Special Committee from the National Mandate Party (PAN) faction last week. In fact, the cause of stagnation has remained the same. From the start, the Special Committee has indeed been divided into two opposing camps: the group of major parties— the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar Party—versus that of medium- and small-sized parties. Nearly all parties whose vote gains are not as big as those of the two giant parties join the second camp. Both groups are in conflict over at least six issues: the allocation of seats per constituency; the mechanism of determining elected candidates; the counting of vote remainders; the number of DPR members; the application of minimum vote gain limits for parties entitled to be represented in the DPR (or the parliamentary threshold); and the model of vote casting. More than just technical procedures of the election system, the six battlefields represent a bigger war involving the survival of the parties themselves. As Andi Yuliani put it, “It’s a matter of survival.” It’s already public knowledge that the PDI-P and Golkar want to simplify the multiparty system in Indonesia through the 2009 elections. “Ideally there are only seven to eight parties,” said Yasonna Laoly, Deputy Chairman of the Elections Bill Special Committee from the PDI-P. According to him, the large number of parties today is not compatible with the strengthening of a presidential government. “This idea is also in line with the General Elections Bill drafted by the government,” added Yasonna. To achieve this, Yasonna indicated that his party would like to reduce the number of seats strived for in each constituency, from the original range of three to 12 seats, to only three to six seats. Automatically the chance of small parties to gain seats will drastically decrease. If they pass this hurdle, small parties are still not free. There is yet another snag: the PDI-P has proposed that only political parties garnering votes above three percent of the total turnout are represented in the DPR. “In many other countries, such a parliamentary threshold rule is normally applied,” he noted.

Unsurprisingly, medium and small parties are crying foul. But their camp has found the right answer. “Changing the composition of constituencies will open the Pandora’s box,” said Andi Yuliani. In her belief, a lot of regencies and cities will question the pattern of their territorial mergers into new electorates. The General Elections Commission will also have a hard time. “We don’t have time for that,” she pointed out. Every time the debate is deadlocked, the meeting chairman at Novotel will ask the DPR expert staff to simulate election vote counting with the options available. By this method, the parties benefiting from and disadvantaged by each option become clear. “If this attempt fails, the relevant provision is usually left out until later,” added Andi Yuliani. With the pressing time, imminent deadlocks, and heaps of work yet to be finished, there is no wonder that voting has been proposed as a short-cut scenario. Furthermore, the general elections law debate five years ago also used this method. On February 18, 2003, the DPR plenary session discussing the elections bill in fact ended dramatically. The Elections Bill Special Committee after working seven full months failed to complete the manuscript of this law. At least nine crucial issues were not yet conclusive until the last moments. Like the present state, the DPR politicians were then also split into two camps. The difference was that Golkar had to face the PDI-P at that time. The Golkar faction insisted that PDI-P’s proposal to prohibit defendants from becoming legislative candidates be dropped. Admittedly, Golkar General Chairman Akbar Tandjung was facing State Logistics Agency corruption allegations. The PDI-P was in turn cornered by the rule banning public officials from campaigning. The PDI-P could have been helpless if Megawati Sukarnoputri, then-President of Indonesia, had not been allowed to display her charm. The session was later adjourned to enable inter-faction lobbying. Negotiations dragged for hours. Finally, at the end of the meeting, several issues had to be settled through voting. Will the same scenario recur? “We are avoiding voting,” said Yasonna. In his view, voting gives the impression that parties are only thinking of their own interests. Andi Yuliani agreed. Attempts to seek a middle path have indeed been made. Besides the formulating team in Bogor, the Special Committee has also formed another team especially to try to find compromise. The decision was made in an inter-faction meeting at Sultan Hotel, Jakarta, in early January. “Faction and party leaders are included in this lobby team,” said Lukman Hakim Saefuddin, Chairman of the United Development Party (PPP) faction. This lobby team meets weekly to reconcile the political positions of both camps, inch by inch. The lobbyists’ latest meeting was at Le Meridien Hotel, Jakarta, last weekend. “Compared with the previous period, now our relations are far smoother,” revealed Lukman. The atmosphere of suspicion and prejudice is minimized. “We used to be guessing what motives were behind this or that proposal,” he said. Now all parties are already open. “All cards are already laid on the table,” added Lukman. So he was convinced that there will be no voting. “If any, there won’t be as much as five years ago,” he indicated. Lukman admitted that one or two articles might not be fully agreed upon. But various offers for compromise are being explored.

Just take the reduction of seat allocation per constituency. The PDI-P is reportedly prepared to move one step back. The condition is that its opposing camp should agree with PDI-P’s counting mechanism for vote remainders. So far, major parties have claimed to be losing their vote remainders. In the 2004 general elections, for instance, some small parties could secure seats because their vote gains were bigger than the vote remainders of large parties that had been divided by voters’ denominator number (BPP). “It’s unfair and should be changed,” maintained Yasonna. The other prominent compromise concerns the application of the parliamentary threshold of 2 to 3 percent in 2009 and the mechanism of determining elected candidates. Nearly all factions have agreed to use the limited open proportional system. The threshold of vote gains to be fulfilled by elected candidates is now reduced to 25 percent of the BPP. “But everything is still subject to change,” said a Tempo source in the formulating team. The final agreement will be adopted in the next lobby team meeting this week. If the compromise remains unchanged, the alteration of the 2009 elections system will not be as radical as imagined. “Based on 2004 elections results, only 28.2 percent of DPR members’ vote gains reached 25 percent of BPP,” said Hadar Gumay, Director of the Center for Electoral Reform. It means the majority of House members will continue to be named according to serial numbers on the list of legislative candidates prepared by their parties. Hadar fears there may be many “middle-path” decisions in the General Elections Bill not to the satisfaction of society. “The question is, while all decisions are made in closed forums, how can the public control them?” he queried. Wahyu Dhyatmika, Kurniasih Budi www.polwan.org

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