Indonesia election decision blow ‘to democracy’

President'elect Joko Widodo was voted in by direct election. Picture: Reuters
President'elect Joko Widodo was voted in by direct election. Picture: Reuters
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INDONESIA’S parliament has ­approved a measure ending ­direct elections for governors and mayors, a move president-elect Joko Widodo criticised as a “big step back” for democracy in the country.

Indonesia introduced direct elections for regional leaders in 2005, allowing the emergence of a new breed of politician free of links to the political elite, with Mr Widodo being the best-known example.

But direct elections in Indonesia, south-east Asia’s largest economy and the world’s third largest democracy with a population of 250 million, have also proven to be costly, and in many cases, corrupt.

“More than 60 per cent of regional leaders were linked to corruption cases because they have spent a lot of money,” said Rindoko Dahono Wingit, a politician in the Gerindra party which voted for the bill.

“This is the new reality, the time to evaluate our system.”

Despite strong public opposition, a divided parliament yesterday passed the bill giving legislative assemblies the power to choose local leaders.

Some polls before the vote showed up to 91 per cent of Indonesians favoured direct elections. Indonesian stocks fell more than 1 per cent after the vote.

Mr Widodo said: “[The bill] is a big step back for democracy.”

Mr Widodo, who is also known as Jokowi, takes office on 20 October.

The vote followed a marathon session that occasionally turned rowdy, with the party of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono walking out in protest after its amendments were excluded.

Mr Yudhoyono said he would respect parliament’s decision but his Democratic Party would launch a legal challenge.

Regional Autonomy Watch, a domestic non-government body, also said it will file a suit in the Constitutional Court.

The result was a blow to Mr Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (IDIP), which failed to secure the political support needed to scuttle the legislation. The party’s coalition is in a minority in the next parliament.

“[This] highlights the enormous political challenges that lie ahead for the Jokowi government,” analysts at investment company Bahana Securities said.

Mr Widodo’s advisers did not expect the bill to have a significant effect on how they govern.

The IDIP is the largest party in 55 per cent of Indonesia’s 34 local legislatures.

Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population (203 million), has embraced democratic reform since the downfall of autocratic former president Suharto in 1998.

This year’s presidential election took place without major violence or military intervention in contrast to developments in near neighbours, such as Thailand and Cambodia.