Why we should be concerned about single candidacy in regional elections

Words have been going around about the participation of Rahmad Mas’ud in the upcoming mayor election in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, which will be held on December 9, 2020. The public campaign coordinator for the East Kalimantan chapter of the Mining Advocacy Network Pradarma Rupang (41) has already heard the news from eight months ago.

Rahmad, an incumbent mayor who is a Golongan Karya party member, will run as a candidate, with his running mate Thohari Aziz, a politician from the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) as his deputy mayor.

“Many people have championed Rahmad Mas’ud as a candidate for quite a long time now,” Pradarma told Jaring.id on August 3, 2020.

Prior to Mas’ud entering the political realm, his family had already gained a reputation as an oil tycoon in East Kalimantan. Some of his family members have also entered politics. For instance, Rahmad’s older brother Hasan Mas’ud is a member of the East Kalimantan Legislative Council (DPRD).

And then there is Rudi Mas’ud, a lawmaker in the House of Representatives’ Commission VII overseeing the energy sector and the environment. Not to mention Abdul Gafur Mas’ud who currently serves as the regent of the North Penajam Paser regency, designated by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the location of Indonesia’s new capital.

It is interesting to note that the Golkar party – to which all three policians belong – has been dominating the East Kalimantan constituency for three decades.

In the upcoming simultaneous regional elections, four big parties will back Rahmad: Golkar, PDI-P, the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). The four parties have secured the majority of seats in the Balikpapan legislative council. With that large a political vehicle, according to Pradarma, the upcoming regional elections in Balikpapan no longer has exciting unpredictability: he believed that Rahmad would easily win the election since it would be very likely that he would be the sole mayoral candidate for Balikpapan.

“His profile has strengthened his position. Some people even joke that he is so strong a candidate that he was guaranteed to become a mayor even if he appointed a flip-flop sandal as his running mate,” he said.

He went on to say that he was concerned about Rahmad’s strong candidacy because he viewed Rahmad as a leader who did not side with his constituency based on his track record in his first term as a Balikpapan mayor. For instance, he has kick-started the coastal road reclamation to build hotels, shopping centers and apartments in the compound, spanning eight kilometers from the Semayang port to the Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Sepinggan airport; he also continues to continue the mixed-use development project with a total area covering hundreds of hectares on his second term if he gets elected.

The reclamation project will be divided into eight segments: with construction companies PT. Karya Agung Cipta, PT. Sentra Gaya Makmur, PT. Wulandari Bangun Lestari, PT Pandega Citra Niaga, PT. Royal Borneo Propertind, PT. Karunia Wahana Nusa and PT. Avica Jaya Nusantara handling its seven segments. Meanwhile, the Balikpapan city administration will handle one segment.

The Balikpapan Traditional Fishermen Association head Sakiran (42) said the project had impacted the fishermen’s livelihoods negatively, since the majority of the fishermen catching fishes in the coastal area, thereby depending heavily on it, to earn their livelihood. He continued that the fishermen’s income, which recently amounts to only Rp 1 million (US$68.01) to Rp 3 million, will decline more steeply due to the reclamation project.

“We are concerned because the reclamation project will encroach upon the fishermen’s catchment areas. If that happened, we would practically lose all our income,” Sakiran told Jaring.id over the phone on Thursday, August 6, 2020. Therefore, the traditional fishermen are hoping that Rahmad will not continue the project, worth dozens of trillions of Rupiah.

“We will convey this to him directly if we have the time and opportunity,” he said.

Rahmad himself told Jaring.id that he did not deny his plan to continue with the Balikpapan bay reclamation project since the budget of the project had been included in the 2012-2020 Regional Spatial Planning agenda. He, however, said he would be open to people’s objections to the project.

“It’s impossible for us to move ahead with the project if it runs contrary [to the people’s aspiration],” Rahmad said on Thursday, August 6, 2020. Commenting upon the possibility that he would run as a single mayoral candidate for Balikpapan, he said he would rather see a lot of candidates joining the upcoming election.

“I’m hoping to get a contender. This will be great as it will provide the voters more choices. If I indeed became a sole candidate in the end, I will just make it up to the people since they are the ones who will vote,” he said.

A commissioner for the Balikpapan chapter of the General Elections Commission (KPU) Noor Thoha explained that Law No. 13/2018 on the change of the KPU’s Regulation No. 14/2015 on the elections of governors and deputy governors, regents and vice regents as well as mayors and deputy mayors with only one running mate made it possible for single candidacies to happen during the regional elections. However, he said the KPU would extend the registration deadline of the upcoming elections to September 2020 should no contenders registered themselves for the elections yet. Only then will the KPU determine the candidates eligible to run for the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, chapter 54D of Law No. 10/2016 on the regional heads election specifies that a single pair of candidates will be considered to win the election only if they manage to get more than 50 percent valid votes.

“We are ready [to stand by this regulation],” Noor told Jaring.id on Thursday, August 6, 2020.

The election watchdog the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) director Titi Anggraini predicted that Balikpapan would become one of the Indonesian cities who had only a single-candidate pair for the upcoming election. Besides Balikpapan, Perludem also predicted 31 more regions to have only a single-candidate pair across Central Java, East Java, South Tangerang, East Kalimantan and North Maluku. The number has doubled compared to the 2018 regional elections, with only 16 pairs of single candidates. In 2017, meanwhile, there were nine single candidates and in 2016 three of them.

“The number of single candidates in the regional elections have increased over the years,” Titi said during an online discussion organized by Perludem on August 4, 2020 via Zoom.

Titi also highlighted the candidacy of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as the mayoral candidate for Solo, Central Java with Teguh Prakosa as his running mate, backed by at least five parties: PDI-P, Golkar, the Great Indonesian Movement (Gerindra) party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI).

According to Titi, the pair will be hard to compete with, since they are backed up by PDI-P, a very dominant party in Solo, occupying 30 out of the total 45 seats available in the city’s legislative council. Other parties, meanwhile, will only secure between one to three seats in the upcoming elections.

Titi pointed to the lack of proper grooming of new politicians among these parties as the primary cause of the increasing single candidates in Indonesia’s regional elections over the years. Meanwhile, only a handful of people make political decisions; these people will prioritize popularity, capital and personal relations when they make such decisions.

“There’s political pragmatism here,” she said.

According to Titi, regulations make it very tough for independent candidates to be eligible of winning the elections: independent candidates have to secure around 20 to 25 percent of seats in the legislative council.

“Hence the need to revise requirements for the candidacy such as annulling the candidacy threshold,” Titi said.

Meanwhile, political researcher Yoes C. Kenawas explained that the prominence of political dynasties in Indonesia was also the reason why the number of single candidates kept on increasing each regional election.

His research study on the 2018 regional elections revealed that about 32 percent of the single candidates are within the inner circles of certain political dynasties, while the remaining 68 percent do not belong to such dynasties. Out of that percentage, about 11 candidates across seven regencies are family members of such dynasties.

“This is the tip of the iceberg of Indonesia’s democracy issues. We have to work on the issue of single candidacy and political dynasty simultaneously,” Yoes said while disseminating his research result on the same Perludem discussion.

A survey conducted by the Indonesian national newspaper Kompas’ research and development team from July 27 to 29, 2020, meanwhile, showed that 58 percent of all 533 respondents across 145 regencies and cities in Indonesia agree that a regulation prohibits or limits the candidacy of politicians belonging to or are associated with local political dynasties during the regional elections.

Furthermore, 35.8 percent of those surveyed said they opposed the prohibition and restriction on politicians affiliating on political dynasties to run for regional offices; the remaining 6.2 percent said they were undecided about the issue. The same survey also revealed that 60.8 percent of the responded perceived that relying heavily on one’s familial ties to boost one’s political career was a bad practice. Only 28.2 percent of the respondents agreed to such practices while 11 percent remained undecided on the issue.

The Muhammad Arsyad Al Banjari Kalimantan Islamic University in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan’s social and political administration school lecturer Muhammad Uhaib As’ad, also a political observer, said he believed that Indonesia’s democracy system had worsened.

“The regent has become the capital owner’s client, while the regional heads have only become servants controlled by the oligarchs in these regional elections,” he said during a discussion in the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

He said this fact ran contrary to the objectives of setting up a political party, which responsibilities include educating the public instead of merely using the public as an instrument to achieve their political agendas.

“The political parties are sinful for this, thanks to their elites who turned these parties into a nepotism zone. We have no platforms for the public to express their political beliefs in a more beautiful way,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Institute of the Sciences (LIPI) research professor Firman Noor believed that the single candidates, born out of the oligarchs, caused democracy to fail to live up to its full potentials.

“We are a democratic country in terms of election procedures only, while its substances are being controlled by only a handful of people,” he said during the Komnas HAM discussion held on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

The graduate of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Exeter University in England said that the oligarchs had already hijacked all phases of the political process, starting from hijacking the political recruitment, its coalition, the elections period, the new government’s power consolidation, and finally, policy implementation.

“The oligarchs are so committed to their own interests,” he asserted.

He said political oligarchs would foster an anti-democratic system, one in which people’s rights to determine their own rights as guaranteed by the law no longer existed.

“Indonesia will turn into a Satanic country if we don’t work hard to repair these things,” Firman said.

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Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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