A landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court that effectively opens the 2019 presidential race up to all eligible parties regardless of their numbers in the House of Representatives was slammed on Friday by presidential hopeful Prabowo Subianto's Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) party as not going far enough.
The court ruled in favor of a judicial review challenging the nation's separate elections for legislative and presidential races as unconstitutional. Under today's election law, only parties or coalitions with at least 25 percent of the vote or 20 percent of the House can field a presidential candidate, hence the need for two elections. The court scrapped these requirements in a March 26, 2013 decision made public on Thursday that opens the door to simultaneous elections in the 2019 race.
The ruling, and the restraint shown by the Constitutional Court, received the applause of some politicians, who warned that there could be serious repercussions associated with making systemic changes six weeks before a legislative election. But for the Gerindra party the decision to postpone election reform for another five years smacked of hypocrisy.
"[It] is very contradictory," Gerindra spokesman Habiburakhman told the state-run Antara News Agency. "If [this year's elections] are not held simultaneously then the elections will not be legitimate."
The party plans to file a judicial review with the court challenging the verdict. It's an important issue for the party, and one that could determine Prabowo's ability to run in this year's presidential race. The party currently hold 4.4 percent of the seats in the House, making it ineligible to field a candidate of its own. Without a dramatic turn of luck in the coming legislative election — one that sees the party's support grow to take an additional 15.6 percent of the House — or the support of a larger coalition, Prabowo's dream of running the world's fourth-largest nation may remain just that.
The party sits outside President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's ruling coalition — making a partnership with the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) the obvious choice. But the sizable PDI-P has a potential candidate of its own, the wildly popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, a figure whose electability far outstrips the already popular Prabowo, according to most polls.
Rumors of a partnership have swirled in recent months, but so far both sides — especially the down-to-earth Joko — have remained mum on the idea. Still, with the presidential race some five months away and the official campaign season closed until three weeks before the election, discussions of a coalition remain mere speculation.
But making sweeping changes to the nation's relatively young electoral system could have serious consequences, politicians warned. The country only recently adopted direct presidential elections — in 2004 — and is about to stage its third direct election for the seat of RI-1. Candidates have already begun generating the necessary hype to stage a serious campaign and changes to the system now could spark chaos in Indonesia, said People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker Sidharto Danusubroto.
“This rule has been prepared for 2019, if it was implemented this year it would be chaotic,” he said.
The National Mandate Party (PAN) also backed the decision, saying that the nation needed sufficient time to ensure a peaceful transition.
“If the ruling implementation started this year there would be too much homework which will eventually lead to counterproductive political chaos,” PAN deputy chairman Dradjad Wibowo said on Friday. “We should be grateful because [the delay] was made for a better democracy.”
Regardless of the delay, legislative candidates in this year's race will have to operate under the shadow of a changing paradigm, he said.
“The ruling has made the 2014 [race] a super crucial moment because of its strategic value,” Dradjad said.
Constitutional Court Justice Ahmad Fadlil Sumadi said that all sides needed time to adjust to the new system, and that delaying the implementation for five years would give the House and the government time to amend electoral laws and regulations. Making any changes this year would disrupt an ongoing political process, the court ruled.
But the court's decision to delay announcing the verdict for ten months left some questioning why the panel of justices would hold off on releasing something so time sensitive. Fadroel Rahman, who filed a similar but unsuccessful judicial review as a potential independent presidential candidate in 2009, argued that the General Elections Commission (KPU) would have had enough time to draft new rules if the ruling was announced back in March, when it was decided.
His complaints grabbed the ear of constitutional law expert Refly Harun, who told the Jakarta Globe that Fadroel and his fellow plaintiffs should file a complaint with the court’s ethics council regarding the delay of the announcement.
“It’s strange that the decision was reached on March 26, 2013, but only announced today," he said. "If it was read a day or two after the decision was taken, then there would have been plenty of time to prepare for this year’s elections."
Ari Dwipayana, a political analyst from Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, said that regardless of how little time was left, the court had a duty to ensure the changes were instated this year if it ruled that the current system was unconstitutional.
The prospects of the threshold being abolished for this year’s election still remain alive, with the court set to hear in the coming weeks a judicial review filed earlier this month by Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a former justice minister, challenging the threshold directly.