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Indonesia's push for more women candidates in general elections faces setback

Straits Times - August 13, 2023

Linda Yulisman, Jakarta – Nearly every Indonesian political party has failed to reserve for women candidates at least 30 per cent of the contested seats in the 2024 polls, in a setback to the country's two-decade-old push for affirmative gender action.

The 2003 Legislative Elections Law introduced the affirmative action by stipulating that political parties could propose their legislative candidates in each electoral district by "paying attention to" the inclusion of at least 30 per cent female candidates in their list.

Out of 18 parties that submitted their lists of candidates for the House of Representatives to the General Elections Commission (KPU), only the United Indonesia Party (Perindo) has met the 30 per cent quota for its female legislative nominees in 84 electoral districts nationwide, according to the Civil Society Coalition on Women Representation.

"This prevents the women from exercising their constitutional right to be voted for," Mr Hadar Nafis Gumay, a member of the coalition, told The Straits Times.

Mr Hadar, who is also executive director of the Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity, said that was due to a new rule by the Election Commission passed in April that allows political parties to field fewer than the stipulated 30 per cent female legislative candidates in a given electoral district.

Under this rule, if an electoral district has four candidates, the minimum number of female candidates fielded can be rounded down to one, lowering representation for women to 25 per cent. This arrangement also affects electoral districts with seven, eight and eleven nominees.

Mr Hadar estimated that with each party removing one slot for women candidates in each electoral district, around 290 slots for women were lost.

Mr Hadar, a former KPU commissioner, noted that the new rule breaches the 2008 Election Law and erodes affirmative action to enhance women's participation in politics.

"We believe that an inclusive and just political process will produce policies that promote justice for all. The decreasing number of women taking part in the election will affect policymaking," he said.

Around 240.8 million people in Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, will go to the polls on Feb 14, 2024, to vote for president, MPs, the Regional Legislative Council and the Regional Representative Council.

The country first introduced the 30 per cent quota in the 2004 election, and improved the arrangement by requiring that of every three legislative candidates, one should be female in the 2009 election.

There were only 61 female MPs out of a total of 550 voted into power in 2004 – accounting for 11 per cent of all MPs. But the figure rose to 120 women – or 20.9 per cent of 575 MPs voted into office – in 2019.

This allowed Indonesia to be ranked 105th out of 193 countries in terms of women being represented in Parliament by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the global organisation of national Parliaments, in 2022.

Greater participation of women in politics is considered vital to addressing gender-related issues, especially in a country like Indonesia, where five out of 100 women aged above 15 were illiterate in 2020.

Ms Titi Anggraini, an election law lecturer at the University of Indonesia, described the failure of most political parties to meet the 30 per cent quota as a major setback for inclusive elections and democracy in Indonesia.

"Political parties still do not consider affirmative action to be a system of value that they must strengthen internally, and as a policy to be institutionalised.

"Instead, they consider it a burden," she told ST, noting that political parties often recruit women cadres only ahead of elections.

Ms Titi said that the lack of commitment from political parties to meet the quota might set a bad precedent that could weaken the drive to increase women's representation in various public institutions.

However, she said that political parties still had time to revise their list of candidates, although that might trigger internal conflicts due to the replacement of male candidates by their female counterparts.

"Parties must revise their list of candidates to accommodate women representation as mandated by the law," she added.

Ms Diah Pitaloka, who leads the Indonesian Women's Parliamentary Caucus, said that political parties needed to help build the capacity of their female members instead of leaving them behind.

"If female cadres do not want to contest due to their weaknesses, political parties should not ruin the opportunities (for them to run). They must have a special strategy to strengthen and support female cadres," she said.

She added that female candidates had secured nearly 21 per cent of all Parliament seats in the past election, and this served as proof that they were "potential vote-getters".

"By involving women in their winning strategy, parties will get the benefit," said Ms Diah, who is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and deputy chairman of Parliament Commission VIII, which oversees social and religious affairs.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesia-s-push-for-more-women-candidates-in-general-elections-faces-setbac