Indonesia’s Parliamentary Election 2009: Are Women Invited?
The recent Indonesian Constitutional Court’s verdict that amends a crucial part of the Law on Parliamentary Elections is not conducive for women to compete in Indonesia’s coming general election. The number of women parliamentarians is expected to be affected by the verdict.
On 23rd December 2008 the Indonesian Constitutional Court annulled Article 214 of Law no. 10 of 2008 on Parliamentary Elections. The verdict effectively abolishes the party ranking list. Now, only the number of votes determines a parliamentary candidate’s opportunity to secure a legislative seat. Although this verdict is a step forward towards a more ideal democratic system and has been trumpeted by some as a “triumph of democracy,” it does come with some shortcomings.Indonesian women, a politically weak group that was protected under the original version of the law, now find their political opportunities to serve as MPs diminished.
The verdict was the result of a politically-motivated legal appeal filed by members of the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P) and the Democratic Party (PD). They requested the Constitutional Court to conduct a judicial review on certain articles of Law on Parliamentary Elections. They argued that instead of a candidate’s position on the list (which, in most cases, is the result of intra-party political bargaining), the actual number of votes should be the single determinant on who the representatives of the people should be.
The Court’s approval of their appeal promotes candidates with wide electoral support. However, it is not gender-sensitive and has the potential to reduce women’s parliamentary participation in both quantity and quality.
The 30% quota of parliamentary seats reserved exclusively for women is likely be affected by the verdict. Indonesian politics is patriarchal by nature. For most Indonesian women, involvement in politics is tantamount to exposing themselves to immediate cultural and institutional barriers. Although cultural barriers still exist, the institutional barriers were removed by the 30% quota. In many parts of the world – such as Argentina, the Philippines, and some Scandinavian countries – the system has helped to increase women’s parliamentary participation. Indonesia is no exception. When the quota was first introduced in the 2004 parliamentary election, the country saw an increase of 11.6% in the number of its women parliamentarians.
The Court’s verdict does not legally abolish the quota system; nevertheless it renders it virtually useless. Previously, women could make use of the party ranking list as a means to gain a better chance in securing parliamentary seats. Political parties, hoping to meet the mandatory 30% quota, willingly put women candidates on the top of their lists. With the party ranking list abolished, political parties are no longer able to provide institutional means to help their female cadres compete against their male counterparts.
Given that cultural barriers are still in place and considering that women’s levels of public access, networking, and funding are much less developed than those of male candidates, open competition like the one mandated by the Court will naturally hurt women’s opportunity. In other words, the verdict has created a much more demanding environment for women to compete in and thus lessens the likelihood of an increase in the number of women parliamentarians.
The verdict also has the potential to jeopardize efforts to increase gender equity. Law no. 2 of 2008 on Political Parties encourages parties to provide a systematic political education for their cadres, especially women and youth. The law has been seen as one out of a few Indonesian legal products that are actually gender-sensitive. By acknowledging that Indonesian women are politically discriminated against, the law provides an umbrella for the protection of women’s rights.
By neglecting the fact that not all groups are equal in Indonesian politics, the verdict has in turn created an environment that contradicts such efforts to increase gender equity. Political parties will also likely not prioritize women’s political education. While the Court’s decision is indeed just for all, some might wonder whether it is also a fair to all. Does the verdict truly embody the principle of ex aequo et bono – of fairness and justice?
On the positive side, however, this challenging environment could be seen as an opportunity to build Indonesian women’s political capacity. If women candidates succeed in becoming parliamentarians despite the difficulties of the new system, it will prove that they are qualified to compete on equal terms against their male counterparts. This would be a huge boost for millions of other women in the country to participate in politics at all levels.
The authors of this article, Andini Gelar Ardani and Sammy Kanadi, are Research Analysts with the Indonesia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.