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Indonesia's proposal to scrap governor election for Jakarta draws flak

Straits Times - March 8, 2024

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Jakarta – A proposed law to scrap local government elections for Indonesia's capital Jakarta and have its governor appointed by the Indonesian President has drawn flak from analysts. They warn that the move threatens to erode the country's democratic systems.

Indonesia's Parliament is currently deliberating an amendment Bill on Jakarta, which will scrap the city's existing five-yearly elections and mandates the incumbent President to decide on who leads the capital after considering inputs from lawmakers.

If the Bill is ratified into law, Jakarta would be the third place in the nation that does not have a local election for the executive post. The other two are Yogyakarta, which under its special region status has its sultan as its ex-officio governor, and the new administrative capital being built in Nusantara, in East Kalimantan, where the head of the special region is appointed by the Indonesian President under a law passed two years ago.

Analysts including Ms Titi Anggraini, director of elections watchdog Associations for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), have opposed the proposal, describing the Bill as "democracy in retreat".

Commenting on the draft Bill, Ms Titi said that the voices of those who want Jakarta's elections to remain have not been properly heard, warning that it could lead to a crisis of trust if what Parliament does is against the will of the people. She added that the government's and Parliament's commitment to democracy is being tested.

Former coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs Mahfud MD has called on the public to monitor the deliberation of the Jakarta Bill, arguing there is potential for the law to be misused if it is passed.

"We have to reject this... It is another trick to meddle (in the process of selecting leaders)," Mr Mahfud told reporters last week.

Mr Mahfud, the running mate of presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo at the recent Feb 14 elections, was referring to claims that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had influenced the outcome of the polls, in which his son and vice-presidential candidate Gibran Rakabuming Raka and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto have emerged victors based on unofficial tallies. Official results are set to be announced by March 20.

According to political analyst Dimas Nugroho, an appointed government would have made sense if Jakarta were to remain Indonesia's administrative capital as it would be easier for the central government to administer it.

"Now there is no reason for an appointed government for Jakarta, a city with a socially and politically mature population," Dr Dimas told The Straits Times, adding that Jakarta should continue its role to display Indonesia as an open and democratic society.

Proponents of the Bill have said direct appointments would save the costs of holding an election, arguing that democracy should not be cost-unfriendly.

The controversy over the proposed Bill comes ahead of elections for the leaders of Indonesia's 37 provinces and 508 cities and regencies, scheduled for Nov 27. The Bill is expected to be decided within the current Parliament sitting, which ends in October. A simple majority is needed to ratify the Bill into law.

Academic-turned-entrepreneur Dr Nasir Tamara told The Straits Times that without elections, Jakarta would likely be governed by a bureaucrat, who may not be as dynamic or innovative as someone from the private sector.

"Jakarta will remain Indonesia's financial and industrial centre. Elections would produce a better leader for Jakarta who is likely from the private sector and who understands entrepreneurship," said Dr Nasir.

He noted that the two most popular candidates for the race are former West Java governor and trained architect Ridwan Kamil, and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, who used to be a private university rector and was a presidential candidate for the Feb 14 polls.

The proposed Bill also introduces a new board to oversee town councils and coordinate urban development in Jakarta and its neighbouring cities and districts. This board will be led by the Vice-President.

Critics like political analyst Musni Umar say the new board could give Mr Gibran a launch pad for his political career, while having an appointed governor post may stave off potential challengers like Mr Anies. They allege that these moves are part of Mr Widodo's plan to build a political dynasty, even though it remains uncertain whether the Indonesian President will continue to wield influence when he steps down in October.

Mr Ari Dwipayana, the coordinator of the Indonesian President's special staff, has dismissed any suggestion Mr Widodo is behind the Bill, saying the proposal came from within Parliament, not from the government.

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/indonesia-s-proposal-to-scrap-governor-election-for-jakarta-draws-fla