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Indonesians want a more diverse legislature

New Mandala - February 12, 2024

Eve Warburton, Edward Aspinall, Diego Fossati, Burhanuddin Muhtadi & Sally White – Most domestic and international commentary on Indonesia's 14 February elections has focused on the presidential race. But on the same day, Indonesians will also vote for legislators at district, provincial and national levels. Almost 10,000 candidates will compete for the national legislature alone, in what will be the country's sixth legislative election since the collapse of Suharto's authoritarian regime in 1998.

Legislative elections are a vibrant affair in Indonesia. The streets are plastered with campaign posters months in advance of voting day, candidates hold gruelling rounds of public events, and they develop sophisticated social media campaigns. Most candidates and their (often very large) campaign teams also invest huge financial resources into distributing patronage, handing out everything from rice and cooking oil, to clothing and cash.

Voter turnout is relatively high in Indonesia compared to the regional and OECD averages, and Indonesians express strong and consistent support for their democratic system and legislative elections. At the same time, the average voter is sceptical about political parties and about the national legislature too: when polled, Indonesians regularly place parties and the national parliament, the DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat/People's Representaive Council) at the bottom of a list of institutions they trust. (The military and the president usually come out on top.)

So what do Indonesian voters believe their legislators should be doing, and what kind of parliament do they really want?

As part of a broader project on political representation in Indonesia, we conducted a nationally representative survey in June 2023 that measured how Indonesians perceive democratic representation, and how they feel about the composition of the parliament, whether it represents ordinary Indonesians, and the work that legislators do. The survey interviewed 1,200 respondents face to face, with a 2.9% margin of error.

The results were striking: most Indonesians express strong support for a more equitable parliament, and for legislative work that focuses on programmatic policies over particularistic projects. Here we offer a brief snapshot of some of our findings.

Do voters feel their legislature is broadly representative?

We began by asking respondents about the extent to which they feel elections are able to produce a parliament that reflects voters' views and interests. Indonesians were divided: around 47% felt the parliament is broadly reflective of voters' interests, and 45% disagreed (see Figure 1 below).

When we dug deeper into the data, we found that class indicators, and in particular education, were correlated with a negative view of the DPR's ability to reflect voters' interests. For example, almost 60% of university educated Indonesians, and over 65% percent of Indonesians in the top income bracket (i.e. over 4 million rupiah/A$400 per month) felt the parliament was not playing its representative role.

Ironically, most legislators have a background akin to those who are more likely to criticise them, i.e. they are more likely to be well educated, wealthy and from an urban area. As political campaigns have become more expensive in Indonesia, upper class candidates have come to enjoy a strong electoral advantage. Yet it seems lower classes citizens are more likely to feel parliament broadly reflects voters' interests.

Source: https://www.newmandala.org/indonesians-want-a-more-diverse-legislature