How does simultaneous elections system influence Indonesian politics?

How does simultaneous elections system influence Indonesian politics?
Legislative candidates sit in front of a banner stating aspirations from members of the Jakarta’s Urban Poor Network (JRMK), which held a convention on Sunday, March 10, 2019 to scrutinize candidates’ commitment in representing their voice when elected. (JP/Fachrul Sidiq)

In a matter of days Indonesia will undertake the largest single day exercise of democracy the world has ever seen. The country’s 193 million voters will attend over 800,000 voting locations, run by over 5.5 million election committee staffers, to elect 40,000 legislative representatives from over 250,000 candidates.

With the legislative and presidential elections being held on the same day, all eyes are on the presidential race, between incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno. Meanwhile, little attention is being paid to the contest over the 575 seats in the House of Representatives, never mind the regional and city level councils.

In 2013 the Constitutional Court ruled that beginning in 2019 the legislative and presidential elections were to be held simultaneously on the same day to reduce “horse trading” or transactional alliances made among parties following the legislative elections. One only needs to look at the 2014 elections for an example of the transactional politics the ruling was referring to: after backing the losing Prabowo ticket, Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP) later joined Jokowi’s coalition and were rewarded with ministerial appointments.

Time will tell if the simultaneous elections fulfill their purpose of reducing transactional politics. However, some legislative candidates aren’t waiting for the election outcome, with candidates in areas hostile to their party’s presidential candidate going against their party’s alliance and openly supporting the opposing candidate.

It is vitally important to understand what other potential effects holding the elections simultaneously has on the campaign and Indonesian politics more broadly. Altering the system for one purpose can bring about unintended consequences.

Take Indonesia’s move from closed list to fully open list voting for legislative elections. This move was made to increase the directedness of democracy, with voters gaining more power over who was elected at the expense of the party hierarchies that nominate candidates.

However, researcher Marcus Mietzner in 2013 has shown this move coincided with a sharp drop in the party identification levels (how strongly a voter identifies with a specific party) among voters. Open list voting has led to more personalized and less party policy-based political campaigning, as candidates from not only opposing parties but also from within the same party compete for votes. Research by Edward Aspinall and Ward Berenschot in 2019 shows this more personalized campaigning leads to money politics, as individual candidates attempt to secure voter support with bribes of cash and goods.

So, what are some of the unintended effects of the simultaneous elections? One of the expected effects is that the two presidential parties will make gains in the…

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