Half-hearted Affirmations

Nurul Sutarti felt ecstatic when her colleague Puji Kusmarti was elected as one of the commissioners of the Surakarta General Elections Commission (KPU) for the 2018-2023 period. In the selection that was conducted three years ago, Puji was elected along with Nurul, Joko Waskito, Suryo Baruno, and Bambang Christanto. For Nurul, the election results were almost unbelievable, because there is a stigma attached to the election organization regarding the representation of women: only one woman being selected as commissioner.

“Even in the past, there were no women at all. Many people still look down on women’s abilities and capacities,” said Nurul, who is now the chairman of the Surakarta General Elections Commission, in a telephone interview with Jaring.id on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

In the previous period, Nurul strongly felt how difficult it was to be a woman in a general election organization. She was even considered as incapable to become a commissioner just because she was a woman. In fact, Nurul has a wealth of experience because she has built a career from the ground up as an election management officer at the sub-district level. “However, my colleagues even see me as non-existent. At first, they underestimated me, especially my physical appearance,” she said.

In the electoral institution, Nurul is not the only one who experiences gender discrimination. The head of the Depok City Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), Luli Barlini, also encountered similar difficulties when facing the culture of masculinity in the election supervisory agency. In the last registration and selection process, for example, she had to face an all-male selection team that did not have a gender perspective. “The patriarchy is strong. We have to be stronger together,” said Luli when contacted by Jaring.id by telephone, Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

Therefore, since she was being elected as the head of the election supervisory board, Luli is committed to put women first when recruiting the supervisory committee. The reason is that out of 11 sub-districts in Depok, only three sub-districts have women’s supervisory committees, namely Sukmajaya, Beji, and Cilodong. “We don’t have many voices at the plenary, so it’s difficult (for women’s voices to be heard),” she said.

Nurul and Luli are only a few of women who have succeeded in occupying the commissioner seats at the general election organizations. Based on data from the Center for Political Studies (Puskapol) at the University of Indonesia, the percentage of women in election organizations currently does not meet the provisions of Law Number 17 of 2017 concerning General Elections.

In the selection of KPU and Bawaslu members for the 2022-2027 period, the percentage of women’s representation did not change much. Of the seven seats for KPU commissioners, only one seat was given to women. The same thing happened in Bawaslu, where there was only one seat provided for a female commissioner.

This condition has not changed much since the selection of KPU members for the period of 2012-2017, where there was only about 14 percent or one woman out of seven members being selected. Meanwhile, Bawaslu only recorded 20 percent or one woman out of five members. The same condition also occurs in the regions. The representation of women in KPU in six provinces for the 2013-2018 period is only around 15.62 percent or 5 women out of 32 KPU members. As for Bawaslu, women commissioners were given five out of 17 seats in six provinces.

Chairman of KPU in Balikpapan, Noor Toha, mentioned three main problems that often caused women to be excluded from the commissioner election process. The first is the absence of a tiered career system. Instead of choosing people who have experience in managing elections, according to Noor, the selection team often chooses commissioners from community organizations, academics, and non-governmental organizations. “This is a criticism against the selection team. We, who have had a career at KPPS, have been excluded because of this selection system,” said Noor to Jaring.id on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

Another problem lies in the schedule of the selection stages that are too close to the voting process. As a result, the selection team did not have much time to assess the capacity of each candidate for commissioner. “The selection team considers that candidates who have knowledge on elections should be prioritized, due to the limited time ahead of the elections. They do not want to take the risks,” he said.

On the other hand, the Law on General Elections is considered as ‘not providing guarantees for women’s representation’, because the law only orders the selection committee to ‘pay attention to women’s representation’. The words ‘pay attention’, according to him, merely means a least effort to complete the majority of male commissioners.

Therefore, Nurul, Luli, and Toha hope that the House of Representatives (DPR) immediately changes the Election Law by requiring 30 percent of women to fill the commissioner seats. “The 30 percent representation of women is simply applied for the sake of fulfilling formalities. Provisions must be communicated to the decision makers who determine the selection. There should be greater representation for women,” said Nurul.

They also encourage KPU and Bawaslu commissioners to dare to make regulations that require an adequate women’s representation at the regional level. Without proper implementation of regulations, it will be difficult for women to take part in the implementation of elections.

Data from the Center for Political Studies at the University of Indonesia shows that there are quite a number of women who register in the electoral institution selection process. In the 2017-2022 period, there were 158 women, consisting of 95 persons (29.2%) out of 325 people who registered at the KPU and 63 women (26.4%) of the 239 people in the Bawaslu. “It takes leadership courage to recruit women,” he added.

Based on the Election Law, KPU and Bawaslu commissioners have the authority to appoint members of regional election organizers. However, according to the elected KPU commissioner for the period 2022-2027, who is also a former member of Bawaslu, Mochammad Afifudin, the affirmations that have been given often fail in the selection process. “The results from the selection team sometimes do not include women candidates, so we don’t have a choice. In fact, we have asked to consider and encourage special affirmations from the initial selection and our process at the end,” said Afif.

Afif assessed that the problem of women’s lack of representation lies not in the regulations, but in the implementation. According to him, the affirmation of women in the law is more than enough. “Allocative politics has provided a privilege. I think the regulations are enough. However, the struggle of equality, if it is pushed by an obligation, will no longer be a struggle. It is more of a forced obligation,” Afif told Jaring.id on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Member of Commission II of the House of Representatives, Guspardi Gaus, claimed to have tried to remind members to pay attention to women’s representation of 30 percent. “I’ve tried to urge about women’s representation before the fit and proper test. It’s a shame it didn’t go as desired as mandated by the law,” said Guspardi Gaus to Jaring.id, Monday, March 21, 2022.

However, she said, the current Election Law does not need to be revised because it is better than before. “If it is mandatory without proper capability, the institution will of course be a victim. Therefore, women must prepare themselves so that they have the capacity to jointly participate in the selection process,” he said.

The Advisory Council of the Elections Association for Democracy (Perludem), Titi Anggraini, admitted that she was disappointed with the selection process for KPU and Bawaslu commissioners some time ago.

“It has been an open secret that the process in the House of Representatives is a political process that is full of pragmatism and conflict of interests. It is not yet fully inclusive, as if the representation of one woman is enough to be ‘a minimalist approach’,” said Titi to Jaring.id, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Without political support in the parliament, Titi thinks that it is difficult for women to become commissioners in electoral institutions. “This makes women less competitive,” she said.

She hopes that the selection process for regional election organizers, which will begin next year, will not have the same fate as the selection process for. Titi encourages the elected commissioners to make gender-friendly regulations that can strengthen the fulfillment of 30 percent women representation in the regions. Based on the records of the KPU, there are 24 KPU working units (satker) that will conduct recruitment in 2023 and 9 KPU working units in 2024. In addition, at the district/city level, there are 317 working units that must recruit in 2023 and 196 satker in 2024.

“KPU and Bawaslu should be urged to encourage the interpretation of phrases ‘by paying attention to 30 percent representation’. They should formulate technical regulations that create obligations for the selection process. The KPU and Bawaslu should be able to emphasize the 30 percent interpretation by making it an obligation,” she said.

Without emphasizing the involvement of women, said Titi, it will be difficult for Indonesia to follow the steps of a neighboring country that has encouraged women’s affirmation. The Global Gender Gaps Index in politics places Indonesia behind the Philippines, Timor Leste, and Singapore. Indonesia only gains 0.164 on a 0-1 score scale. This figure is far behind the Philippines, which has an index of 0.363, Singapore (0.208) and Timor Leste (0.238). “Their affirmation policy is more friendly and open than Indonesia,” said Titi.

Chairman of the KPU (The National Election Commission) of Timor Leste, Jose De Costa Belo, stated that the level of participation of women to become commissioners in Timor Leste is quite high. Unlike Indonesia, Timor Leste uses a representative scheme to become a commissioner, consisting of representatives from the president, prosecutors, civil, and parliament. Each of them delegates one person, while the parliament delegates three more people. “There is an obligation for women to become commissioners, even if there is at least one,” said Jose Belo when contacted by Jaring.id on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

One of the efforts made by Timor Leste to encourage women’s representation is through regulations. According to Jose Belo, the Timor Leste General Election Law emphasizes that all political parties contesting the general election should include women to participate, as much as 30-50 percent. “The law requires it,” he said.

The high interest of women in political affairs is not only in the general election commission. According to Jose Belo, the candidacy for president of Timor Leste for the 2022-2027 period is also filled by women. Of the 16 candidates, four are women. “I’m sure that in the future more women will participate in the elections,” he said.

Timor Leste’s general election was held at the end of March. The top two candidates, Jose Ramos-Horta and Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres, will face off again in the second round of the April 19, 2022 election. The reason is that until the end of the result calculation of the first round of the presidential election, Ramos-Horta, who excelled more than twice as much as Guterres’ vote, had not yet achieved a superiority of more than 50 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Election Commission (Comelec) is considered to have implemented the provisions of women’s representation. Of the 4 current commissioners, two of them are women. In fact, this electoral institution is chaired by a woman, namely Socorro B. Inting. The Comelec website states that Socorro has a legal background.

When joining Comelec in 2018, she admitted that she was not an expert in election law. “Election law is unfamiliar to me, so I really need to learn,” she told Comelec employees in May 2018. “But don’t worry, I’m a fast learner,” she continued as quoted by Rappler.

The woman from Davao, the city where Rodrigo Duterte served as mayor for two decades, served as Chief Judge of the Manila District Court and Prosecutor for seven years. Prior to taking office on Thursday, February 3, Socorro was the head of the Comelec Division 2 which handled four cases against 2022 presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. Meanwhile, another female commissioner, Aimee P. Ferolino, has gained much experience during 26 years in managing general elections in the Philippines. She had served as an election assistant, provincial election supervisor, and served in the implementation of four presidential elections in the country. Ferolino herself was appointed on December 22, 2020, with a term of office for seven years. (Abdus Somad)

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