The Tangled Thread Behind “Clean” Election

A week before the general election was held, the corner of Kuala Lipis – a small town in Malaysia, was filled with posters and banners with calls to win the majority seats in parliament. Three coalitions, namely Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan, and Perikatan Nasional are competing for votes in the town located in the middle of Pahang. One of the Kuala Lipis residents who has chosen a candidate is Nafsiah (24).

In this election, Nafsiah felt the competition between coalition parties for parliamentary seats. Unlike the 2018 elections, the general election at that time was more crowded because there were three coalitions fighting. Previously, Malaysia’s political contestation was monopolized by Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. The third coalition emerged after a split in the Pakatan Harapan coalition. Former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin formed the Perikatan Nasional coalition as a third force that prioritizes Malay interests, including Islamic parties.

The increase in candidates contesting this year’s election has not made it easy for Nafsiah or other Malaysians to make a choice. “It’s still not transparent enough. So there are still some candidates that I don’t know,” Nafsiah told Jaring.id, Wednesday, November 23, 2022, four days after the election was held.

Even so, Nafsiah still voted. She hopes that the election results can produce candidates for council members and prime ministers who are honest, not racist, and do not pay attention to only one tribe in Malaysia. “This election should produce candidates who are clean, not corrupt. Besides that, they are fair and trustworthy with their responsibilities, and understand the nation and religion,” she said.

At the time of the interview, Malaysia was still experiencing a deadlock in the election of the prime minister as there was no absolute winner in the election held on November 19, 2022. Under the Malaysian constitution, a party or coalition needs 112 votes from a total of 222 parliamentary seats to form a cabinet. This majority holder has the right to submit the name of the prime minister candidate to the king.

However, in this year’s election, the most votes won by Pakatan Harapan only resulted in 82 seats, while Perikatan Nasional got 72 seats, and Barisan Nasional, which nominate prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, garnered 30 seats.

On Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah finally appointed Pakatan Harapan coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister to avoid a political vacuum.

Chairman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) Malaysia, Thomas Fann, in an interview with Jaring.id the day before polling day, had predicted Pakatan Harapan’s victory. Apart from having a fairly solid support base, Pakatan Harapan is considered to have an impressive commitment to institutional reform. “I think Malaysia needs systemic changes to the political system and structure,” said Thomas on Friday, November 18, 2022.

In the last election, according to Thomas, political parties in Malaysia greatly benefited from the addition of the number of new voters in Malaysia, which reached 6.2 million people. This is in accordance with the constitutional amendment which lowered the minimum voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

Even so, he doubts that the percentage of voters who will exercise their voting rights will be higher than in 2018. “Last election we had 80 percent of voters, but this year it is likely to only reach 70 percent,” Thomas said. Moreover, the election schedule held in November is not ideal for voters. Some areas in Malaysia are also affected by floods. “Malaysia is now in the rainy season. It rains all day and some places are flooded. This makes us worried that many people cannot leave their homes to vote,” he said.

Thomas’ prediction was not far off. Citizen participation in this year’s Malaysian elections was only 70 percent. A total of 14 million out of 21 million voters, including 6.23 million new voters exercised their voting rights in the parliamentary elections. “Many people are frustrated and disappointed with politics here, but if the election is attended by more than 70 percent, then we consider it very good,” Thomas added.

 

Post-Election Polemics

The election of Malaysia’s new prime minister was heated before Anwar was named prime minister. The reason is, the November 19 election resulted in a hung parliament. No single party received a majority in parliament. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Anwar won 82 seats. His party still needs support from 30 more MPs to secure 112 seats. On the other hand, his rival, the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition led by former PM Muhyiddin Yassin won 73 seats. Meanwhile, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition dominated by UMNO came in third with 30 seats.

The Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), parties that are members of the Pakatan Harapan coalition-affirmed their commitment to implementing clean politics, both in the last general election, and when running the government. This is because, according to MUDA Secretary-General Amir Abd Hadi, his party has signed an agreement, and reported the assets of all legislator candidates. The party nominated six candidates, consisting of five men and one woman. However, in the last vote count, MUDA Party was only able to win one parliamentary seat in the Johor region.

“Everyone reports their assets so that people know where the source of the candidate’s wealth-income is from and the number of assets before and after being elected,” Amir told Jaring.id when contacted Friday, November 18, 2022.

In addition, the MUDA Party claims to have conveyed the track records of its candidates through social media. The publication is accompanied by a report on the candidates’ assets. “This is one of the initiatives to ensure that our six candidates are clean and do not use money politics. So the public can also monitor,” said Amir.

MUDA Party will also carry out transparency and encourage party accountability by reporting all party income and expenses during the campaign period, including a list of party fund supporters. “So that no money is misused,” he said.

Even after the campaign and election period is over, Amir ensures that MUDA Party will audit the funds collected during the elections. “So far, no party has conducted an audit. We will do it and report it,” Amir said.

According to Amir, it is important to do so because corruption, transparency, and accountability are issues that attract the attention of the Malaysian public. Cases that have surfaced include the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption involving Prime Minister Abdul Razak. This case became a global concern. In the process, it dragged several Malaysian political figures.

Not only that, allegations of royal involvement in electoral fraud also gave birth to a clean politics movement in Malaysia. The public demanded reforms in the elections. Therefore, according to Amir, his party must be more transparent so as not to arouse public suspicion. “The movement for clean, honest and fair elections is strengthening. From that, we want to be transparent in reporting funding,” said Amir.

Prime Minister-elect Anwar Ibrahim, as quoted from Free Malaysia Today, emphasized that he would not waste the state budget. One way is not to buy a new official car or renovate his office. “Think about how much you can save, 100 Ringgit, a thousand or 10 thousand Ringgit that can be returned to the poor. I started with a commitment not to take a salary, but the important thing is not to waste the funds we have,” he said after being named PM.

Previously, Anwar was also committed to maintaining unity in Malaysia. He does not want the rhetoric of breaking the harmony of the Malay, Chinese, Indian, and tribes from the Sabah and Sarawak regions to continue after the election.

Meanwhile in Thailand, the results of Thailand’s first election since the military junta group took power in 2014 still leave a polemic. At that time, the democratic front coalition group led by the Pheu Thai Party, which was linked to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, managed to collect 255 seats out of a total of 500 seats in the parliamentary system of government. However, this coalition of seven parties did not automatically get the right to elect the prime minister. This is because there is a constitutional rule that states the elected prime minister must be supported by 376 votes. This is a combination of the House of Representatives and the 250-seat Senate.

Six months before the 2023 General Election takes place, Thailand’s Constitutional Court is examining a bill related to the election of members of parliament. One of the judicial tests allows changes to the parliamentary seat distribution scheme from 100 to 500. This seat distribution scheme was previously feared to trigger the practice of money politics in Thailand.

Quoted from the Bangkok Post, former advisor to the constitutional regulation drafting committee, Jade Donavanik said that if the bill related to legislative elections was approved by the Constitutional Court, it could prevent a political crisis. “But courts tend to consider politics. I believe whatever number is used, whether it is 100 seats or 500 seats, can clear the court. This can prevent a political crisis,” he told the Bangkok Post, Monday, November 28, 2022.

Political observers in Thailand say the 500-seat division will benefit medium and small parties, including the Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP), the United Thai Nation Party (UTN), the Bhumjaithai Party, and the Democrat Party. A political observer from the Burapha University of Thailand, Olarn Tinbangtiew assessed that the regulation could benefit a coalition of small parties.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who is a military junta, is also rumored to be joining the UTN led by Pirapan Saliratha Vibhaga. This political maneuver will make it difficult for opposition parties like Pheu Thai to gain seats. “The main opposition Pheu Thai’s chances of getting party list seats and securing a landslide victory will be at stake,” said Olarn Tinbangtiew on Monday, November 22, 2022.

The Election Commission of Thailand has set May 7, 2023 as the date of the general election. From that, the Thai Parliament must complete its term of office on March 23. Article 102 of the constitution stipulates that general elections must be held within 45 days of the House of Representatives’ term of office being completed.

 

Hoping for the Power of Participatory Supervision

Not only in Malaysia and Thailand, suspicion of politicians’ movements also looms over the public ahead of the 2024 elections in Indonesia. The track record of prospective members of parliament is the issue that is often highlighted. The reason is that there are around 313 elected members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Legislative Council who were arrested for corruption during 2004-2022. This number puts legislators in the second position of the most perpetrators of corruption after the private sector people.

In the 2019 General Election, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) researcher Kurnia Ramadhan also noted 81 former convicts of corruption cases who ran for office. A total of 12 parties have nominated cadres who have been caught in corruption cases. Golongan Karya is the party that nominates the most corruptors in the election, with the number reaching eight people. “In this context, if there is no change in the Election Law, election participants will still nominate former corruption convicts,” Kurnia told Jaring.id on Wednesday, November 15, 2022.

Moreover, the decision of the Constitutional Court Number 56 / PUU-XVII / 2019 opens up opportunities for corruptors to run in general elections. This is because the regulation states that former corruption convicts only need to wait up to 5 years after leaving prison to participate in political contestation. The verdict was the result of a request for judicial review of Article 7 paragraph (2) letter g of Law Number 10/2016 on Regional Head Elections. “With this rule, the public is faced with problematic people on the ballot. We are worried that when elected, they will remain committing corrupt actions,” said Kurnia.

Responding to this, Golkar Party Commission II member Ahmad Doli invited the public to scrutinize the track records of the candidates that would run for the candidacy This is because the regulation states that former corruption convicts only need to wait up to 5 years after leaving prison to participate in political contestation. The verdict was the result of a request for judicial review of Article 7 paragraph (2) letter g of Law Number 10/2016 on Regional Head Elections. “With this rule, the public is faced with problematic people on the ballot. We are worried that when elected, their corrupt actions will still be carried out,” said Kurnia.

Responding to this, Golkar Party Commission II member Ahmad Doli invited the public to check the track records of the candidates who would run for candidacy. This, he said, is important as a reference for choosing candidates for the House of Representatives (DPR), the Regional Representative Council (DPD), the Regional Legislative Council (DPRD), and regional heads. “People today can find out about candidates. So (it will be) the consequences of each (party candidate). Once people know it, it becomes one of the preferences,” he said while attending a public discussion on the launch of a survey of presidential and vice presidential candidates based on the Voxpol Center Research survey on Friday, November 18, 2022.

Golkar guarantees that its party will prioritize clean elections. The party bearing the banyan tree symbol encourages the implementation of elections to be transparent, accountable, honest and fair. Golkar even asked the KPU to publish the track records of all candidates participating in the general election. “Whether you want to be a presidential candidate, DPR, or regional head, the public has access to track records. A track record is not something that is difficult to obtain now,” said Doli.

This member of the House of Representatives from North Sumatra III said that Golkar would not just nominate candidates for people’s representatives. Several criteria ranging from integrity to national insight are prerequisites for Golkar. The candidates, according to Doli, must also have close ties with the community. “From there, we will see the potential or seeds of leaders, both at the central and regional levels, including regional heads and all kinds,” said Doli.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party member Herman Khaeron has a different opinion. According to him, bringing up cadres with integrity in the 2024 general elections will not be enough to guarantee the implementation of elections with integrity. “The rules must be strict. The public should guard the election process to prevent money politics,” he said.

Khaeron, the member of Commission VIII that takes care of the Legislative Body asked the KPU and the Election Supervisory Agency to make regulations that provide strict sanctions for candidates and political parties that use dirty methods to win votes in general elections. “Not by looking for mistakes and then ultimately benefiting some parties. This can happen if sanctions are imposed more severely for various violations,” said Khaeron.

Supervision rules in the election began to be designed by Bawaslu. This institution is currently drafting the Bawaslu Regulation on Participatory Supervision. This regulation consists of 34 articles. According to Bawaslu member Lolly Suhenty, the activities that will be regulated in this regulation include supervision education, citizen forums, and supervision corners. This is also inseparable from the application of clean politics in the 2024 elections. “The new innovation that has been formulated in the form of a draft program and will be included in this Bawaslu regulation is the digital community of participatory supervision,” Loly said on Tuesday, November 15, 2022.

The target of the program of Bawaslu’s Draft Regulation on Participatory Supervision will be directed at novice voters, young people, people with disabilities, the elderly, women, community organizations, religious leaders, teachers, students, and indigenous peoples.

The Director General of Politics and Public Administration of the Ministry of Home Affairs (Kemendagri) Bahtiar appreciated Bawaslu’s initiative. The Ministry of Home Affairs encourages the draft regulation to include election monitoring norms, such as community organizations that are legal entities or not but are registered with the government and local governments. “Because there are mass organizations with SKT (Registered Certificate). So, we just inserted that norm,” Bahtiar said when presenting the Ministry of Home Affairs’ views at a meeting with Commission II of the House of Representatives, Tuesday, November 15, 2022.

Meanwhile, the Election Association for Democracy (Perludem) emphasized that supervision should belong to the community. There is no need for restrictions in the form of regulations that complicate the supervision process, including administrative obstacles. “Participatory supervision is as if Bawaslu is the one supervising, the community is just riding along,” said Titi Anggraini, a member of Perludem’s Board of Trustees when contacted by telephone on Monday, November 14, 2022.

According to Titi, Bawaslu’s biggest challenge is actually to encourage the public to become part of election supervision. In addition, Bawaslu can present a mechanism for responding to the results of public supervision in a transparent, accountable, and trusted manner. “If the public is invited to something that is done by the public but it does not create public trust in applying the principles of justice and professionally, the public will be reluctant to participate. Then participatory supervision is not enough,” she said.

For this reason, she encouraged Bawaslu not to only involve the community in ceremonial events. Participatory supervision, she said, requires a legal protection ecosystem that can protect the community from threats, intimidation, and terror when conducting surveillance. “Currently, it is only limited to the euphoria of getting people involved. I feel that it has not yet presented the fulfillment of electoral justice,” said Titi.

 

Ministers not Taking Leave

Another challenge in the implementation of clean elections in Indonesia is the issuance of the Constitutional Court’s rule Number 68/PUU/XX/2022 which allows ministers proposed by political parties to run as presidential or vice-presidential candidates to not have to take leave during the campaign period.

The decision states that Article 170 paragraph 1 of Law Number 7/2017 on Elections does not have conditional legally binding force. According to the Court, there are eight categories of ministerial-level officials who still have to resign when running for president or vice president. These include the chairman, deputy chairman, chief justice, and judges of the Supreme Court; the chairman, deputy chairman, and judges of all judicial bodies, except ad hoc judges; and the chairman, deputy chairman, and members of the Constitutional Court.

“Including ministers and ministerial-level officials as long as the ministers and ministerial-level officials obtain approval and leave permission from the president,” said Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Anwar Usman, in an online session, Monday, October 31, 2022.

In response, President Joko Widodo will consider the performance of ministers and the government before granting leave for the 2024 Legislative and Presidential Elections. According to Jokowi, candidates must prioritize their duties as ministers. “But if it turns out to be disturbing, we will evaluate it, whether it is necessary or not to take a long leave,” Jokowi said on the sidelines of an exhibition event at Jiexpo Kemayoran, Jakarta, Wednesday, November 2, 2022.

Kurnia Ramadhan assessed that President Jokowi’s statement could lead to unclean elections because it has the potential to create a conflict of interest. According to Kurnia, the president is not using the authority stipulated in the 1945 Constitution, which gives full power to the president to appoint and dismiss ministers. “The president can actually dismiss them (ministers) when they have entered political contestation,” said Kurnia.

Civil society is worried that when ministers do not resign, there will be the utilization of state facilities to increase the popularity of candidates. One of the examples is the appearance of SOE Minister Erick Thohir on the screen of an automated teller machine (ATM) at a state-owned bank, allegedly to increase his electability as a candidate.

“The use of state facilities to increase one’s popularity is dangerous. This is a violation of the use of state facilities. That’s a serious problem. Unfortunately, the president ignores it. The president should have asked the minister to resign or replace the minister,” said Kurnia.

Another problem that obstructs clean politics, according to Kurnia, is that there is no political party that provides information related to their party funding on a regular basis to the public, even though this has been regulated in Law No. 14/2018 on Public Information Disclosure.

According to him, it is important for the public to know any information about the parties, to see how parties are struggling in the elections in Indonesia. The public, said Kurnia, will easily see the parties in choosing candidates running in the general election. “It should be opened clearly to the public, especially regarding the source of funding for political parties,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the General Elections Commission (KPU), Hasyim Asy’ari, said that election participation, requirements, and documents that must be met by candidates for DPR, DPRD, and presidential candidates are only limited to curriculum vitae forms. Unfortunately, the KPU does not firmly require all participants to publish curriculum vitae. “Because it must be approved by those who have the data. So the exceptions are not made on the basis of political reasons but based on the law. It goes back to the agreement with the political parties, along with the candidates participating in the election,” said Hasyim on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Abdus Somad/Reka Kajaksana)

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