2. Reducing the number of parties: A danger for the diversity of Indonesia?
Partyforumseasia: Conventional political science wisdom is rather unanimous that too many competing parties are more of a nuisance than a blessing to any party system. Consequently, Indonesia has been commended for the effort to keep a lid on the mushrooming party scene in the earlier part of the democratic era (Benjamin Reilly and others). But the question is, whether what is good for “normal” countries can be applied to the huge archipelago state of Indonesia and its regional diversity.
In an article for the Link: Straits Times of Singapore (22.1.2013), John Mcbeth looks into the negative side effects of the new move by the the General Election Commission (KPU)’s screening process for the 2014 election:
“Only 10 parties passed the General Election Commission (KPU) verification, in a screening process that has seen the overall field drop from the 48 parties which took part in the first democratic elections in 1999 to 24 in 2004, and then back to 38 in 2009. (…) Among the victims of the KPU paring knife were the Crescent Star Party (PBB), which had contested all three past elections, and the United National Party, founded by the leaders of 12 minor parties who failed to win representation in 2009.
Quite apart from denying the country’s 187 million potential voters a wider choice, the onerous qualification obstacles the big parties embedded in last year’s amendment to the 2008 electoral law will also make the electorate more Java-centric than ever. The PBB, for example, failed to win a seat in 2009. But most of its 1.8 million supporters were concentrated along Sumatra’s central spine and in West Nusa Tenggara – not on populous Java.”
The criteria of the electoral law, amended in April 2008, are certainly not easy to meet by small and new parties unless they have access to very comfortable funds:
– The minimum threshold to enter parliament has been increased to 3.5% – still low in the international comparison
– A regional chapter in all 34 provinces
– Branches in 75 per cent of the 398 districts and 98 municipalities, and in 50 per cent of about 5,400 sub-districts.
However, the genesis of the laws lies in Indonesian elites concerns about not just party fragmentation, but also means to deny ethno-regional parties a platform to pursue sectarian or even secessionist policies. It is in this conflict management role that the laws have been notably successful. The one exception to the law – which allows the Free Aceh Party to compete in Aceh – was a crucial bargaining chip in helping end the secessionist struggle there. More broadly the decision to disallow local political parties has meant that ethnicity cannot be a viable vehicle for party-building. As a result, Indonesia’s national political parties have proven surprisingly adept at making cross-ethnic appeals and downplaying the role of ethnicity in politics. This is a major achievement in a country as diverse as Indonesia, and not one to take lightly given the other possible avenues Indonesia’s democratic transition could have taken.
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