The Indonesian parliament voted early Friday morning to scrap direct voting for regional leaders, including governors, mayors, and district chiefs, despite fierce protest outside the building by thousands of demonstrators since Thursday afternoon. Instead, the country’s lawmakers decided by a margin of 226 to 135 to have regional executives appointed by regional councils.
The decision has sparked outrage across the nation, as many consider it a setback to the country’s hard-earned democracy since the downfall of Dictator Suharto’s 32 years of ruling in 1998. Local elections only began nine years ago in 2005, and was seen as a milestone in Indonesia’s process of democratization after decades of dictatorship rule.
Critics have deemed the move as revenge against president-elect Joko Widodo, who is the governor of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. On July 9th, he defeated Prabowo Subianto, the candidate for the Gerindra party, which backed the bill proposal. Mr. Widodo, who is to be inaugurated next month, is the first elected Indonesian president with no military background or connections to the Suharto era. Born as a son a timber collector, he has grown to be popular among the Indonesians people during his service as a mayor in his hometown, and as governor of Jakarta. Mr. Subianto, on the other hand, is from a prominent family and a son-in-law of Suharto.
The legislation could possibly sideline outsiders like Widodo, and give power back to the country’s traditional elites who have been looming over the country’s effort to decentralize power and to nurture democracy. It also signals the obstructions against political reforms the Widodo administration could face going forward next month after he takes office. Mr. Subianto’s Gerindra party and its allies still holds a 68% majority in the incoming parliament, which convenes on Wednesday.
Supporters of ending direct regional elections cite corruption, efficiency, and a waste of money as arguments, but their opposition believes that empowering local councils will only increase corruptions as candidates are likely to collude with local MPs.
Sisilo Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s current president, denounced the proposal before the voting. However, his party the Democratic Party, the largest in Indonesia, walked out of the deliberation and abstained from the vote as a result of the house’s rejection of their alternative options to the election system.
The bill will be signed into law in 30 days by President Yudhoyono, who does not have formal veto powers, but a review can still be filed to the Constitutional Court.
Similarly, local elections were seen as a milestone in Taiwan’s democratization. Since 1950 Taiwan has had elections on the municipal level, but often controlled by the KMT, which ruled Taiwan as a one-party authoritarian state under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In 1954, an independent candidate Kao Yu-shu (高玉樹) for mayor of Taipei defeated KMT candidate Wang Min-ning (王民寧), in a rare case of KMT conceding defeat. In 1967 Taipei and Kaohsiung became provincial level cities, and their mayors (along with provincial governors) were appointed by the central government until 1994. While the governor of Taiwan Province was decided by election in 1994, it was the first and only provincial election since the Taiwan Province government was later dismantled in 1997.
Taiwan will hold nationwide elections of all local executives and council representatives on November 29th.
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