Public Benefits of Political Rivalry
The public will benefit from the appearance of high-quality politicians in the presidential election. Prospective candidates should not be limited to members of political dynasties.
THE rivalry between two politicians of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in the run up to the 2024 presidential election is a benefit of democracy. The appearance of Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Puan Maharani as presidential candidates must not be seen simply as an internal party conflict. In a democracy, this is transparency: when a person expresses their desire to become a presidential candidate and the public can clearly see the track record of all the candidates.
Both Ganjar and Puan have potential and strong political capital as prospective presidential candidates. Ganjar has better electability. A number of polls put him in the top three, with support between 10.6 percent and 29 percent. Meanwhile Puan, although much lower in the polls, has a central position in the PDI-P. As well as being chair of the central leadership, she is the daughter of PDI-P Chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The PDI-P should be grateful for this dynamic. The party leadership should not be angered by the appearance of Ganjar. There is no need to kill off Ganjar’s candidacy by saying that the naming of the presidential candidate is the responsibility of Megawati. The PDI-P should not forget that it once opposed the nomination of Joko Widodo as candidate for governor of Jakarta in the 2012 regional elections, despite later changing its mind when Jokowi’s electability improved. The same thing happened when Jokowi stood for the presidency in 2014, and also when Basuki Tjahaja Purnama announced his candidacy for governor of Jakarta in 2016.
It is important that there is open discussion about the presidential candidates so the public becomes used to the fact that the national leadership must be changed at least every 10 years. This is a legacy remaining from the reforms of the 1998 student movement. But if the presidential term limits were removed, we would return completely to the New Order era. Meanwhile discussions on an amendment to the 1945 Constitution so that presidents would be able to serve for three terms are still underway at the People’s Consultative Assembly.
A lively contest for presidential candidates for 2024 must be seen as a good thing because it is to be hoped that the public will be more relaxed discussing the pluses and minuses of these candidates. The more candidates the better. We should not forget the fanatic defense of the presidential candidates in 2014 and 2019 caused by the polarization of the two rival camps. Religious sentiment was used, and conflict moved from the public into the personal domain.
We must not forget that there is a reason for the small number of contestants. The General Elections Law sets the threshold for nominating a presidential candidate at 20 percent of the seats in the DPR or 25 percent of the valid national vote. With such a high bar, only the PDI-P is able to nominate its own candidate. The PDI-P has 128 seats (22.26 percent) of the 575 seats in the legislature. The requirement to form party coalitions leads to oligarchical politics that opens the door to transactional politics.
Although it seems difficult, we hope that the DPR will reexamine the presidential nomination threshold. Changes will not be possible this year because the revision to the General Elections Law has been removed from the priority national legislation program. Also, the Constitutional Court has several times rejected lawsuits calling for the presidential threshold to be removed.
The removal of the presidential nomination threshold would provide the same opportunity for all parties participating in legislative elections to put forward candidates. This would make possible the appearance of high-quality politicians to contest the presidency. As a result, voters would be faced with a range of candidates not only limited to those from political dynasties currently controlling the party structures.