Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hadar Navis Gumay: Calling for public scrutiny in elections

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 11/17/2008 10:47 AM | People

For Hadar Navis Gumay, elections are all about details. No election should be considered democratic if it fails to meet democratic values and standards.

The man who has observed elections in more than five Asian and European countries believes an election should not be judged by its surface appearance.

"There are too many details in any election that need to be checked to make sure that they together form a democratic process," Hadar told The Jakarta Post recently.

As a process to form a government, elections, said the 48-year-old man, had always tempted governments and political parties to "meddle in or twist the election process, especially in the formulation of laws and regulations".

This is the reason why global election watchdogs are crucial, said Hadar, who has been executive director of the Center for Electoral Reform since 2005.

For the former urban sociology lecturer, if it wasn't for the influence of election watchdogs in the 1999 and 2004 elections, no one could ever have guessed the outcome of the elections that have helped put Indonesia on the path to democracy.

"We can't measure the contributions of election watchdogs quantitatively, but the presence and the massive activities of the election groups have made people think twice about being deceitful," said Hadar, who helped monitor the 1999 election, which was dubbed by many scholars as the country's first democratic election in its 44 years.

Shifting his career from lecturer at the University of Indonesia to an electoral reform activist, Hadar, who co-founded the University Network for Free and Fair Election in 1999, said a good election required good regulations guaranteeing justice and legal certainty, providing clear procedures and law enforcement.

"If we want a democratic election, we need to eliminate false regulations and articles that can be interpreted in different ways from our laws on elections.

"We also need an inclusive space for wider public participation, including for minority groups, such as women, religious groups, as well as freedom for the media and these requirements should appear in regulations," he said.

Some flaws in the country's regulations on legislative, regional and presidential elections, he added, were part of the efforts of political parties to retain power.

The newly enacted presidential election law, which requires a party or coalition of parties to win a minimum 20 percent of House seats or 25 percent of popular votes to be eligible to nominate a candidate, is also a breach of the Constitution, he said.

"This number is too high. The higher the nomination threshold, the more reclusive the system. Only a hand full of candidates who are strongly supported by their parties will gain the advantage.

"How can we hope for changes if it so difficult to be nominated?"

The argument used by legislators that a higher nomination threshold increases efficiency is baseless and threatens candidate legitimacy, Hadar said.

"Having two rounds in the election will definitely help produce a more legitimate president. Trying to push it to one round is a big mistake. Besides, not being democratic, it also breaches the Constitution."

The mechanism to decide elected candidates in the legislative elections based on a ranking system, Hadar said, was inconsistent with the open list system mandated by the law on legislative elections, which stipulates that a candidate will be more likely to win a House seat if he gains more popular votes.

"The open list system implies that people should have a greater chance of deciding their representatives while political parties can only decide candidates."

However, the law also stipulates that if no candidate nominated by a party attains 30 percent of popular votes, the party's highest ranked nominee will win the seat.

"This is not fair because the candidate at the bottom of the list might win more votes than the ones at the top. This means that parties still have the power to decide rather than the people."

Hadar said this flaw would spark conflicts between the candidates and in turn affect how the elected lawmakers are promulgated.

Although laws and regulations on elections have their specific flaws, Hadar said, the biggest challenge facing the integrity of the elections process was the public's lack of civic knowledge.

"We need to educate people so that they are knowledgeable and aware, to nurture democratic values and to empower them with the skills required to solve problems with society."

He added the many violent conflicts that have taken place during previous elections in many regions was evidence of a lack of democratic values among the public.

"They didn't know how to deal with problem in a non-violent way," he said, adding that although the success of the elections depended on many factors, none was more important than the role of the General Elections Commission (KPU).

"If KPU can do its job well, in line with the existing regulations, and be independent and professional, they will crush all opportunities for violations."

Hadar said the KPU was restricted by its dependence on its budget allocation from the government, which had resulted in many delays in electoral procedures.

"It's like one of their hands has been tied behind their back so they have to work with one hand."

He lamented the KPU for not publishing its rules and regulations with the public.

With the April 9 legislative elections drawing nearer, Hadar said the KPU would not make any progress in the next three months.

"I have a feeling the legislative elections will be a total mess if the KPU doesn't change the way they operate from now on."

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