The devil in the detail (blog by Jacqueline Vel)

President Jokowi is a source of inspiration for future new leaders in the districts of Indonesia. A friend of mine on the island of Sumba in Eastern Indonesia tried to register as an independent candidate for the December 2015 district head elections. He found out that new legislation makes this practically impossible.

When I was in East Sumba’s capital town Waingapu in April, I was surprised to see large banners on which my friend Stepanus Makambombu and his companion wished everyone “Happy Easter”. Was that a new local custom? He soon explained that it was a way to deal with all the restrictions imposed by the district Election Committee (KPUD). Stepanus belongs to a new generation of Indonesian politicians who aspire to be clean and democratic leaders in the districts of Indonesia. Their challenge is to stay out of clientelistic networks, refrain from money politics and be elected as district heads based on a sound program instead.

Stepanus has all it takes to be a good district head. Educated in developments studies, working experience in governance and decentralization programs, descendant of East Sumba’s aristocracy, and head of an NGO working on consumers and citizens’ rights, and the list can be expanded. A nice and bright person, with many friends. His running mate for the elections Heinrich Dengi is the director of the Sumba’s main radio station Max FM, and also environmental activist.

When I visited Stepanus in April this year he told me about the rules of the KPUD that made life so hard for them. The KPUD does not allow candidates to publicly discuss their programs before the official campaigning period. It also demands that when you want to register as election candidate you should hand in evidence of support. How can you assemble a constituency based on program support when you are not allowed to publish that program, nor to present yourself as official candidate?

That is why Stepanus put up banners in the capital town with Easter wishes that also included their election slogan. They discussed their ideas on the radio. On his NGO’s Facebook page Stepanus showed his program. But the hardest part was to get evidence of support. The national election law (Law 8 of 2015) demands that aspiring independent candidates should hand in photocopies of the identity cards of their supporters. Article 24 includes the problematic “detail” that in sparsely populated areas 10 per cent of the district population is the minimal support required. That new (March 2015) law changed the numbers from the previous 6,5 per cent to 10 per cent for the coming district head and governor elections. The reason for that change is that political parties urged for raising the independent candidacy threshold to avoid their competition and undermining influence on parties’ clientalistic policies. In East Sumba that means 23,000 copies of identity cards. Electronic copies are allowed, but there is hardly any Internet connection in Sumba. When the deadline approached in June Stepanus had managed to gather 9000 copies. Not sufficient.

These current legal registration requirements effectively exclude independent election candidates. Implementing the 10 per cent support rule postpones democratic political innovations in this district and guarantees established political elites to run the place.

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