Thousands of village heads and village officials staged a demonstration in front of the House of Representatives (DPR) building in Jakarta on Tuesday, January 17, 2023. Wearing brown uniforms, all of them demanded the extension of the village head’s office term to 9 years.
In the action, they also put up a banner reading “From 6 Years, To 9 Years,” installed at the gate of the councilor building. There was also a white banner containing petition with the hashtag #9 Tahun Hak Asal Usul Desa (9 Years of Village Origin Rights). The protesters called on the House members to immediately revise the Village Law and ensure that the term of office for village heads be extended to 9 years.
Article 39 of the prevailing Village Law states that the village head holds office for 6 years from the date of inauguration. The village head can serve a maximum of 3 consecutive or non-consecutive terms.
Conversations in the Whatsapp Group (WAG) of the East Belitung Representatives of the Indonesian Village Head Apparatus Association (Apdesi) were suddenly noisy at that time, after one of the WAG members talked about the demonstration.
Deputy Chairman of the Apdesi’s East Belitung Branch Council, Mardani, who is one of the WAG members, said that he did not join the demonstration. In an interview with Jaring.id on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, he said he did not know anything about mass mobilization to Jakarta. “They suddenly flocked to the House building. How come none of us, neither the provincial or district administrators of Apdesi, were notified,” he wondered.
The discourse on extending the term of office of village heads was actually initiated by Apdesi, the organization that Mardani joins. In addition to Apdesi, the Association of All Indonesian Village Apparatus (Papdesi) also voiced similar aspirations.
Then, the demands were positively welcomed by the government and the House, considering that the number of villages nationwide has reached more than 83,000 at present. This number is quite promising, especially for House members and local politicians. Politician Budiman Sudjatmiko from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) is quite enthusiastic on handling this issue.
After the rally of thousands of people in front of the House building, Budiman claimed that President Joko Widodo agreed with the extension of village heads’ term of office, by taking into account that the post-election dynamics in villages are different from regencies and cities. “I conveyed this to Mr. President, he agreed and would let the issue be discussed at the House meetings,” he said after meeting President Joko Widodo at the Merdeka Palace.
The House Legislation Body and some members of political party factions in the House also proposed that the revision of the Village Law be included in the 2023 priority National Legislation Program (Prolegnas).
Later, President Joko Widodo also responded to the discourse on extending the term of office of village heads to 9 years. Jokowi welcomed the revision of the Village Law by asking Papdesi to discuss it with the House. “Any initiatives or aspirations should be conveyed to the House of Representatives,” Jokowi said after checking the development of the Ciliwung river basin project on Tuesday, January 21, 2023.
Not all parties agree with the initiative to extend the village head’s tenure to 9 years, including Mardani. The head of Buding Village, Kelapa Kampit, East Belitung, expressed his disagreement and emphasized that the action does not represent all village officials. “[The current provision of 6-year tenure] is in accordance with the Village Law,” he said.
In his view, village governments need regeneration or leadership transitions within a short span of time. A 6-year term, according to him, is more than enough to run the work programs, as well as provide opportunity for the community to offer new ideas related to village development. “I disagree because 9 years is too long for one period. The regeneration will be too slow,” said Mardani.
Mardani is not alone. A number of village heads in Sumatra and Papua also shared similar opinions. Charlens Bising, who has only served as the village head of Letbaun, Semau District, Kupang Regency, NTT Province for one year, opposed the extension of the village head’s term of office.
The rejection is in line with the results of the Political Indicators survey, which showed that around 73.5 percent of the public did not agree with the village head’s term of office being extended to 9 years. Only 19.3 percent of the public agreed, 1.1 percent strongly agreed, and 6.1 percent chose not to answer.
One of the village heads who agrees with the extension of the village head’s term of office is Titik Istiyawatun Khasanah. “Nine years is enough to build a strong [village] foundation to build a sustainable system,” she said on Saturday, April 1, 2023. However, “two periods of leadership are enough,” she suggested.
The head of Sriharjo Village, Bantul, Yogyakarta Special Region, claimed that the 6-year term is very short to develop the potential of the village. Moreover, the post-election time is often marred by political competition and polarization. This, he said, can last until one to three years. “Political battles in the village are quite fierce. It’s more terrible. It lingers for years,” he said.
Avoiding a split in the organization, Chairman of Apdesi, Surtawijaya, welcomed the aspirations of village heads in various regions. “Apdesi accommodates the voices of our members in the regions,” he told Jaring.id on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Apart from providing more time for elected village heads to execute work programs, extending the term of office can also reduce the cost of village head elections. The Minister of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration, Abdul Halim Iskandar, has even agreed with this idea. Even so, he did not deny that the extension of the term of office also has the potential to make the community bored, and hamper leadership regeneration in the regions.
Momentum for the 2024 Election
The discourse on revising the Village Law has been the topic of controversy for the last couple of years. In 2021, the Constitutional Court (MK) conducted a judicial review of the Village Law, especially regarding the term of office of the village head. The Constitutional Court then issued a ruling Number 42/PUU-XIX/2021, which stated that the limitation of the village head’s term of office for six years, with a maximum of three terms, was a constitutional regulation.
At that time, the court argued that the reason for insufficient time to carry out the vision and mission of the village head was not a constitutional issue. Moreover, when compared to the term of office of public officials who are directly elected every five years and can be elected for two terms, the village head’s term of office is considered to be the maximum, which is 18 years.
Two years after the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Surtawijaya revealed that a number of village heads in East Java and Central Java have started calling for the extension of the village head term. The move gained support from members of the House of Representatives, especially those from the National Awakening Party (PKB) and PDIP. This is because the two parties have the highest number of votes in East Java and Central Java.
In the 2019 presidential election, Joko Widodo and Ma’ruf Amin, which was supported by PDIP, PKB, Golkar, NasDem, PPP, Hanura, PSI, Perindo, PKPI, and PBB won 16 million votes out of 27 million voters in Central Java. Meanwhile, in East Java, they received 16.2 million votes. “Central Java and East Java have many board members voicing this idea. West Java just followed suit. Their voices had also been accommodated by the Apdesi forum,” Surtawijaya said.
Throughout 2022, both Apdesi and Papdesi, along with 33 Village Representative Councils, claimed to have communicated with the Minister of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration. They also held various meetings with council members. The politicians they met in the House of Representatives were mostly from PDIP and PKB.
According to Surtawijaya, there have been three or four meetings on this issue. In addition to the extension of the term of office, in these meetings, Apdesi also requested the government and the House to increase the village budget.
The village fund budget in the draft of 2023 State Budget has actually increased by Rp70 trillion. The amount rose by 3.09% compared to the 2022 outlook, which amounted to Rp67.9 trillion. “Apdesi also demands that the 7000 village heads whose terms will expire in 2023 should immediately hold an election,” he said, considering the politicization of the 2024 elections.
Therefore, Apdesi urged the House to revise the Village Law this year. “Then, just speed up the village head elections because there are 70 days before the presidential election period begins,” he said. According to Surtawijaya, a number of factions in the DPR, including the PKB and PDIP factions, support the revision. “They are the ones who voiced the problem of the 9-year term of the village head. There are several other parties, but I am not concerned about that. I am more concerned about village funds,” he added.
Meanwhile, Papdesi stated that the discourse on extending the tenure of village heads to 9 years was the result of the National Meeting held in 2020. According to Papdesi Secretary, Senthong, there are at least 33 Papdesi regional boards that agree with the extension of the village head’s term of office. This extension, according to Senthong, has never happened in Indonesia. In 1979, he explained, village heads could serve for up to 10 years.
“We have conveyed this to the government before, so this is not all of a sudden, as if we are taking advantage of the election momentum,” Senthong stressed.
However, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, according to him, the submission of Papdesi’s aspirations to the House and also the government could only be done at the end of March 2022. “Then the decision can only be proposed at the end of March 2022. We waited for 3 months and there was no response. Finally, we staged the demonstration, “Senthong told Jaring.id, Friday, March 31, 2023.
“The House promised that during this first session of meetings, the proposed changes to the Village Law would be included in the national legislation. A few weeks ago, we sent a letter to the leaders of the House, so that the plan to conduct consultations regarding the changes could be accepted, “he continued.
He assured that the push to extend the tenure of village heads is not related to the 2024 elections, let alone the discourse of a three-term president. However, a video recently circulated of a declaration of support for Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo as a 2024 presidential candidate from a village head association in Brebes Regency.
“People finally have opinions and assumptions. This is part of the political attitude of village officials and village heads related to the momentum of the election. Actually, there is no connection. Internally, we have never discussed the president’s term of office. We never did it,” he said.
The term of office for village heads, as Senthong explained, does change from time to time. The Constitutional Court’s decision, read out on Monday, January 23, 2023, states that the village government system has often changed since Indonesia’s independence until the Law No. 6/2014 took effect.
Article 9 paragraph (2) of Law 19/1965, for example, regulates the term of office of the village head for a maximum of 8 years, without the provision of re-election. Then, there was a limitation of the village head tenure, which was regulated in Law No. 5/1979 on Village Administration. The law stipulates that the term of office of the village head is 8 years and can only be re-elected once. This means that a person can only be a village head for a maximum of two terms with a maximum term of 16 years.
In 1999, the Law No. 22/1999 on Local Government took effect. Article 96 of the law states that the maximum term of office for a village head is 10 years or two terms. Five years later, the Law 32/2004 on Local Government was enacted. Article 204 of the Law 32/2004 states that the term of office of the village head is 6 (six) years and can be re-elected for only 1 (one) subsequent term.
Ten years later, the village issues were regulated in the Law No. 6/2014 on Villages. Article 39 states that the term of office for village heads is 6 years and can serve for 3 terms. According to the Constitutional Court, this limitation is important to avoid abuse of power. “Such a limitation is not only intended to open up opportunities for certainty in the transfer of leadership generations at all levels of government, including at the village level, but also to prevent abuse of power due to the long tenure, because power tends to corrupt,” the Constitutional Court stated.
It’s not about the term of office
PDI-P politician Budiman is one of the politicians who support the revision of the Village Law. On the sidelines of the Ninth Anniversary of the Village Law in Senayan, Jakarta on Sunday, March 19, 2023, Budiman promised to review the revision even though he is no longer a member of the House. “I will oversee the struggle for the revision of the Village Law,” he said.
According to him, the revision of the Village Law is needed to accommodate the wishes of a number of organizations, such as Apdesi, Papdesi, and several village apparatus organizations. However, until this article was published, Budiman did not reply to Whatsapp messages and telephone calls when contacted by Jaring.id regarding the alleged maneuvers of PDIP politicians to extend the tenure of village heads.
The same goes for the Minister of Villages, Abdul Halim Iskandar. He did not reply to Whatsapp messages and phone calls by Jaring.id. In one of the activities with village officials and the Village Head of Sawahan, Nganjuk, East Java, the younger brother of the Chairman of the National Awakening Party, Muhaimin Iskandar, emphasized that the revision of the Village Law would benefit village heads and village officials. “The draft revision of the Village Law that we have prepared has reached 60 percent. All the drafts we have prepared are favorable,” Abdul said on Friday, February 23, 2023.
He viewed that village governments often encounter various obstacles in village development. The polarization of residents, which is difficult to reduce and tends to extend due to the village head election, also makes the work of the elected village head difficult to realize in 6 years. He believes the problem can be solved by extending the term of the village head to 9 years. From that, Gus Halim, as he was fondly called, said that when approved by the House, the community must oversee the performance of the village heads. “If the idea is approved, it must be enforced,” he said.
Meanwhile, a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission overseeing the issues on Villages, Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration, Syahrul Aidi, disagrees with the extension of the village head’s term of office. According to him, the community can be bored with a long leadership. “If the village head runs well, it’s okay. If not, the people should wait for a long time. So we have to listen to people’s opinions too,” he said when contacted, Friday, May 5, 2023.
The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) noted that in 2022 there were at least 83,794 village heads throughout Indonesia. The largest number of village heads was in Central Java with 8,562 people, followed by East Java with 6,496, Aceh with 6,515 village heads, North Sumatra with 6,113 village heads, and West Java with 5,957 village heads.
Corruption Cases by Sector in 2021: village fund, government, education, transportation, social community, banking, health, land, irrigation, trade
An organization that often encourages corruption-free governance, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), assessed that the extension of the village head term can worsen village problems, including corruption, money politics in village elections, extortion, and weak transparency and community involvement in the use of Village Funds.
Based on ICW’s monitoring of corruption prosecution trends in 2021, the most corruption crimes occurred in the village fund budget sector with 154 cases and 245 suspects. “Our records show that village officials are ranked top in the context of criminal acts of corruption,” said ICW researcher Kurnia Ramadhan. As a result of the case, there is a potential state loss of Rp233 billion.
Meanwhile, based on the records of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), until 2022 there were 686 village officials who were caught in Village Fund corruption.
Corruption Cases by Institution in 2021: village government, district government, village-owned enterprises (BUMD), city government, provincial government, schools, state-owned enterprises (BUMN), regional legislative councils (DPRD), private companies, banks.
Instead of the duration of the term of office, Kurnia assessed that the main problem faced by villages is the mentality and understanding of village heads and village officials to run a good democratic system in accordance with the Village Law. “So, supervision should be improved, as well as ensuring community participation, both formulating and designing budgets and evaluating the implementation, instead of extending the term of office of the village head,” said Kurnia.
Kurnia also suspects that there is a hidden agenda behind the discourse of extending the term of office of village heads. “If the extension is carried out, we suspect that the plan to prolong the tenure of the village head is part of the 2024 political consolidation. That’s what we read from the movement so far. Moreover, it was voiced by political party administrators, “Kurnia told Jaring.id.
In other countries, the practice of granting very long terms of office is only carried out in countries with a constitutional monarchy system. For example, Cambodia, which once proposed that Prime Minister Hun Sen be given more than 30 years of power or China, which removed the presidential term limit. In Indonesia, a long term of office occurred during Soeharto’s leadership era during the New Order.
Other Southeast Asian countries, such as Timor Leste, have extended the term of office for village heads from five to seven years. The change was made two years after Xanana Gusmao became Prime Minister in 2007. Antonio Lela Huno, a politician from the Young Party in Timor Leste, said that the village election had already taken place three times. The new village head has been appointed since April 2023. “It’s new and it has been legalized,” Antonio said when contacted by telephone on Friday, May 5, 2023.
Until the ratification of the extension of the village head term, according to him, not many politicians in his country highlighted the term of office of the village head. Moreover, from April 19 to May 20, politicians in Timor Leste are trying to gain votes to compete for parliamentary seats. “There are not many rejection votes,” he said.
In approximately 10 days, Timor Leste will hold parliamentary elections. Two major political parties, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor Leste (CNRT) led by former President Xanana Gusmao and Fretilin, the party supporting former president Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, will again compete to win the election.
According to the history of parliamentary elections in Timor Leste, two political parties have taken turns winning elections. The difference in the number of parliamentary seats won by the two parties is relatively small.
In the 2007 election, Fretilin won the election and won 21 parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, CNRT only won 18 seats. In the 2012 elections, it was the CNRT’s turn to win the legislative elections and won 30 parliamentary seats. Fretilin came second with 25 seats. However, in the last two elections, it was Fretilin who managed to take over the victory. In the 2018 elections, Fretilin won 23 parliamentary seats, slightly ahead of CNRT who won 21 seats. Even so, it was not Fretilin but CNRT that managed to control the parliament. This is because the party managed to build the AMP (Alliance for Change and Progress) coalition with 34 parliamentary seats. The AMP coalition is a joint political party collaboration between CNRT and PLP (People’s Liberation Party) and KHUNTO (Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nacional Timor Oan).
On the sidelines of the election, Antonio himself admitted that he disagreed with the length of the village head’s term. As with national-level government, unrestricted power violates democratic principles.
Meanwhile, Ricardo, one of the administrators at the Fretilin Central Committee, said that village-level elections are completely different from parliamentary elections in Timor Leste. The extension of the term of office of the village head, according to him, is not related to politics. “Parliament has nothing to do with village elections,” he told Jaring.id.