Tilting at Windmills in Grasp at Threshold

By : Jakarta Globe | on 3:02 PM January 28, 2014
Category : News, Politics

Politicians have insisted that a threshold restricting the number of parties allowed to nominate presidential candidates will still be in force for the 2019 polls, despite a court ruling that effectively renders it meaningless.

Hinca Pandjaitan, a spokesman for the ruling Democratic Party, said in Jakarta on Monday that the presidential threshold was still needed “so that political parties can maintain the quality of the candidates being nominated.”

“It would be difficult to get good-quality candidates if the threshold was eliminated,” he added.

Under electoral law, only parties or coalitions that win at least 25 percent of votes in the legislative election or 20 percent of seats at the House of Representatives may nominate a presidential candidate. This has in the past narrowed the presidential field to three candidates at most.

The two sets of elections are held three months apart, allowing time to finalize the vote counts to determine which parties have met the threshold.

But in a landmark ruling made last March and only announced last week, the Constitutional Court said the 2019 legislative and presidential elections should be held at the same time, effectively nullifying the notion of the presidential threshold and allowing all parties eligible for the legislative election to field a presidential candidate.

Hinca said it would not be fair on established parties like the Democrats if a new party, formed just before the 2019 polls, was also allowed to field a candidate without having proven itself at any election.

“This cannot happen,” he said.

He did not say how the threshold could possibly be applied, given that there would be no time to determine the number of votes won by each party if the legislative and presidential ballots were to be cast at the same time.

Ahmad Basarah, a deputy secretary general of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said separately that the reasoning that the threshold had been eliminated by the Constitutional Court ruling was flawed.

“In it’s ruling, the court stated that it would leave the question of the presidential threshold to legislators,” he said.

“That means the requirement for the presidential threshold in the 2019 presidential election will still be determined by the House together with the new 2014 government.”

He, too, did not say how such a threshold would be applied, but reiterated that “it has not been eliminated.”

“Certainly there is going to be heated debate” on the issue, Ahmad said.

He suggested that the outcome of this year’s legislative elections be used as a guideline for determining which parties should be allowed to nominate a presidential candidate in 2019.

Observers, however, have pointed out the futility of trying to enforce the threshold under the scenario that the Constitutional Court has put forth.

Irman Putra Sidin, an expert on state administrative law, acknowledged that the ruling did not specifically quash the threshold, but said the implication from holding the legislative and presidential elections on the same date was obvious.

He said that as such, there would be no point to legislators trying to determine a new threshold or ways to make it apply in 2019.

“The notion of the presidential threshold cannot go together with that of a simultaneous election,” Irman said.

He added that if the House insisted on having a threshold for 2019, it would inevitably be flagged before the Constitutional Court for a judicial review and promptly struck down.

Marzuki Alie, the House speaker and an aspiring presidential candidate this year from the Democratic Party, said it was “simply logical” that the threshold could not be brought to bear in 2019.

“No matter how you do it, it’s impossible to adopt the presidential threshold in a simultaneous election,” he said.

“All parties eligible to run in the legislative election can nominate a presidential candidate.”

Marzuki added that while the ruling was binding, it also warranted criticism.

“The Constitional Court’s job is only to accept or reject a judicial review. It is not entitled to decide when the simultaneous election should be held, because that’s the authority of election organizers,” he said.

The court ruling was made on March 26 last year, but only made public last Thursday — a 10-month delay lambasted by those advocating for the threshold to be scrapped in time for this year’s election.

The court ruled in favor of a judicial review that contended that holding the legislative and presidential elections separately was unconstitutional.

But it said the ruling could not be implemented this year because preparations for the elections were already in full swing and any major changes would disrupt the process.

Critics have accused the court of being under political pressure to hold back the announcement as long as possible, to ensure the ruling could not be implemented in time for the 2014 polls.

Ari Dwipayana, a political analyst from Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, said that regardless of how little time was left until the legislative election on April 9, the court had a duty to ensure the changes were instated this year if indeed it felt that the current system was unconstitutional.

“The court compromised the ruling,” Ari told the Jakarta Globe.

“It shouldn’t have delayed the implementation to 2019. A solution could have been to move the legislative election up to the presidential election [on July 9] this year. That would have given organizers time to prepare.”

The court last week also began hearing another judicial review, filed by Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a former justice minister and presidential hopeful from the Crescent Star Party (PBB), specifically seeking to abolish the threshold for this year’s election. Yusril has blasted the ruling in the other case, questioning why a system deemed unconstitutional — holding the legislative and presidential polls separately — was barred in 2019 but not in 2014.

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