Electoral management largely determines whether an election is free and fair, or rather whether it represents some kind of symbolic event or affirmation of the incumbent leadership. In this regard the more pure an election is in terms of being free and fair and open for participation by all groups like voters or candidates, the more secure such an election will be as conveyor of popular sovereignty. In essence, the conduct of the elections determines the legitimacy of the elections as a reflection of the people's choice.
The two democratically administered general elections in the post-Suharto Indonesia, 1999 and 2004, marked Indonesia’s departure from non-democratic society into an evolving vibrant democracy. It allows greater participation of the Indonesian people in the decision making process through the democratically elected representatives. Various political parties that emerged in the post-Suharto Indonesia provide the necessary channel for the functioning of a representative democracy. New party cadres have been born from this process to ensure the re-generation of political actors as a means of establishing sustainable democracy in Indonesia.
The 1999 General Elections provided several valuable lessons for more effective and independent electoral management. The composition of KPU which comprised of representatives of political parties was proven to be problematic. While an inclusive KPU was useful in engaging political parties in the management of the electoral processes, the partisan nature of the members created difficulties for the KPU in producing effective decisions. The large number of the political parties contesting the 1999 election also posed special challenges in maintaining peaceful campaign. Voting and ballot counting during the 1999 election also presented a new challenge for the KPU. With previous elections prior to 1999 being mostly a formality to maintain the dominance of Golkar as the New Order’s political machinery, there had been many detailed election processes that the KPU was not prepared to anticipate. Genuine voting, vote tallying, and seat allocation were all new to both the KPU and the political parties. As most voters were happy enough to be able to exercise their democratic rights without being afraid of the government’s interference, little attention was paid to the representativeness of the election results.
The 2004 General Election was a major improvement in both the electoral management and the electoral system. In 2001 a new KPU was formed as a non-partisan institution. But, its formation based on a presidential decree was seen as a temporary measure although nomination of its members involved a consultation with the DPR. The 2004 legislative election was eventually implemented based on Election Law (Law 12/2003) which introduced several new additions such as the direct election of DPD, the use of partial open-list system for candidacy of DPR and DPRD, and the mix of proportional and district representation system for the election of members of DPR and DPRD.
The passing and enactment of Law No 22/2007 on General Election Organizer by the Government of Indonesia, which put the General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – KPU) as a national, independent and permanent body rectifies this situation and provides further assurance in establishing sustainable Indonesian democracy. The presence of such an independent institution shall induce some sense of security and trust in the minds of the public on the conduct and management of elections. In addition, the Law made the KPU as one of the ancillary state institutions with a specific mandate of managing the critical component of Indonesia’s democratic cycle that is electoral management on the basis of professionalism and accountability. The KPU is the sole authority for any democratic election for elected offices in Indonesia, be that for national executive leadership (president and vice president), legislative (DPR, DPD and DPRD), or for regional and local executive leaderships (governors and regents/mayors).
This development reflects significant departure from Indonesian election and electoral management being an ad-hoc activity which only occurs once in every five years. The enactment of the Law No 22/2007 has also added some constitutional framework and a starting point toward building national institutional capacity to manage Indonesia’s open democracy.
However, there is always room for improvement. Mere presence of an independent, permanent electoral management body with full constitutional backing does not guarantee the successful functioning of such a body and the administration of democratic elections. The eligibility and result of the selection process of the KPU commissioners proved to be problematic. With seven members of KPU commissioners for 2009 general elections having different background and considering the current situation related to the preparation for the elections, there is likelihood that the administration of 2009 general elections might face some hiccup. Revamping the membership of the KPU, the eligibility for the position and the division of role and function between the election commissioner and the Secretariat General shall rectify the situation in the future. Adoption of international best practices on electoral management body shall provide necessary inputs to rectify the current state of Indonesian electoral management body.
Similarly, national debates on other important aspects such as electoral threshold for parties to contest elections, district magnitude, party magnitude, women candidacy as well as on possible implementation of fully open list system for legislative elections have continued to take place. It indicates the presence of significant aspirations for the electoral systems and processes to be further improved to move toward more reasonable number of political parties as well as the adoption of electoral system which could ensure more representative results.
Electoral system is one of the most basic democratic structures, from which much else flows. It determines how votes cast in an election translate into seats won in parliament thus it is the central rule of the game determining who governs. Failure to adopt suitable electoral system to accommodate the diversity of aspirations and equality of representation in a heterogeneous society such as Indonesia would only hamper the democratization process. Strong, independent and permanent electoral management body will not be able to produce quality outputs if the electoral system does not reflect the goal of establishing democracy and good governance. Electoral engineering has the capacity to generate major consequences by altering the strategic behavior of politicians, parties and citizens. It allows the feasibility of deepening process and entrenchment of democratic principles in young democracies. Thus, continuous adjustment of electoral system to develop the most suitable electoral system for certain polity to achieve the goal of sustainable, substantial democracy becomes possible.