File photo: Election official piles up ballot boxes after the voting of the general elections in Johan Pahlawan, West Aceh, on April 18, 2019. (Antara photo)

UGM Scholar Proposes Primary Election System for Legislative Candidates

BY :HERU ANDRIYANTO

JANUARY 10, 2023

Jakarta. A political science expert from Gadjah Mada University, or UGM, recommended that the upcoming general elections employ primary elections to indicate an initial public preference for legislative candidates at both local and national levels, a system made popular by several western countries, most notably the United States.

Mada Sukmajati told BTV news broadcaster on Monday night that the system, in which supporters of a political party vote for their candidates internally before the general elections, is “the only way” to ensure the highest public participation in an election.

Indonesia, which will hold general elections in 2024, has since 2009 adopted a direct voting system in which voters have influence over legislative candidates put forward by political parties.

Under the system, known as the open-list proportional representation, any party puts a list of selected candidates on the ballot.

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Mada admitted he is not the biggest fan of the current system because candidates have little reliance on their parties and instead depend largely on personal charisma and wealth to garner votes, without bothering to campaign for the party’s ideology.

“In the last three elections when we used the open-list proportional representation, political parties’ ideology, vision, and programs became very obscure because not all candidates were able to interpret them,” he told BTV’s Fristian Griec.

“What follows is politics without programs – i.e. money politics because candidates don’t care about the vision of their party.”

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The professor of UGM's Faculty of Social and Political Studies proposed that the general elections returned to the previous system where voters solely voted for a party that in turn would exclusively decide the winning candidates proportional to the number of votes it won.

Parties selected their own candidates and ranked them in numerical order from the most-preferred one, but in contrast to the US election system, their names aren’t put on the ballot – called the closed-list system.

“We vote for political parties but they must guarantee a transparent, participative, and accountable selection method of candidates through primary elections,” Mada said, adding that his team once conducted research and one of the recommendations was the primary.

Any political party must hold primary elections covering villages, districts, cities, provinces, and countrywide levels to select candidates preferred by voters, not party leaders.

“Because this is the only way we can get a greater degree of assurance about public participation when we come back to the closed-list system,” he said.

At least eight incumbent parties have openly opposed the return to the closed-list system.

But Mada argued that his preference for “the closed-list system coupled with primary elections” is based on the main goals of the country’s search for the best election system: to strengthen the presidential system, to simplify the party system, and to promote party ideology.

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