An ‘Open-and-Shut’ Loophole

The DPR has agreed on the `half-open’ proportional election system. For Golkar, this system will benefit Akbar Tandjung.

THE word defeat is not in the vocabulary of Golkar Chairman Akbar Tandjung. He could even benefit from the tiniest loophole there is to escape from oblivion. The tiny gap that he has just passed is the open proportional election system. The system as explained in the election bill that the House of Representatives (DPR) passed last Tuesday made it possible for voters to directly choose any House candidate that he or she prefers. In other words, the voters in the ballot will punch the name of the candidate according to his preference and also punch a political party logo.How does the system affect Akbar Tandjung?

According to a TEMPO source at Golkar, Akbar supporters in the party have long objected to this system. With a closed proportional system–the voter only chooses the party logo–the composition of the House is determined by party officials in the central committee. Regional committees of course may propose a candidate, but the final word is with the central committee and hence under this system, Jakarta’s position is quite strong. “Akbar Tandjung determines which Golkar cadres will be House members,” said Fahmi Idris, a Golkar official who opposes the convicted Akbar.

With such a strong bargaining position, Akbar is able to pressure regional committees. This has something to do with his vulnerable position after the state and appeals court sentenced him to three years in prison. He was found guilty of fraud concerning Rp40 billion of State Logistics Agency (Bulog) funds.

Not long after the sentence, according to Fahmi, three opinions were held by the party top brass: Akbar should resign from Golkar, Akbar should be non-active, and Akbar should just stay on. But no regional committee has had the courage to openly oppose Akbar. “This is due to the issue of any particular legislature’s candidate list,” said a Golkar official.

But why did Golkar finally accept the open-list system? Here is the catch. Since the beginning, many had suspicions that there is a conspiracy behind the formulation of the paragraph.

It is true that in chapter 84 section 1 it is specified that balloting is carried out by punching one of the party logos and then punching the candidate’s number below the logo. But in chapter 93 on the validity of the ballots, one of the principles of the open proportional system was taken out.

The chapter ruled that–in simple terms–the ballot’s validity is determined by punching the column properly. But if the voter only punches the candidate’s name while the party logo is not punched, the ballot is regarded as invalid.

With this ruling, the political parties are able to manipulate the votes. In their campaign, they may call on the voters only to punch party logos and then forget about the candidate’s name. Moreover, on the ballot there will only be the number of the candidate, while his name and picture will be attached to the balloting booth wall to be consulted as needed.

If the voters select the logos more than the candidate’s name, “the candidates that will sit in the House again will be determined by the political party,” said political commentator and election committee member Hamid Awaludin.

This policy not only benefits Golkar, but also other parties that still want to keep up the domination of their central committees. In Tuesday’s voting, the supporters of this chapter were Golkar, PDI-P, the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Crescent Star Party.

Member of the Special Committee on the Bill from the Golkar faction, Rully Chairul Anwar, denied assertions that the chapter was included to protect his chairman. He said the basis of the proportional system is the political party. “If the votes for the candidate are insufficient that means the voters are letting the political party do the choosing,” he said.

So far, the impact of the application of the “half-open” proportional system for Akbar Tanjung’s fate is not yet clear, while the Golkar leaders meeting will be held next month. In this meeting it will be decided whether Akbar still holds on or not. “I’m not aware of the latest development. I’m not a census officer,” said Fahmi Idris jokingly.

Some regions said they would not decide until the Supreme Court has decided on Akbar Tandjung’s fate. Others say that they will support Akbar whatever the outcome. “We will continue to support Akbar whether the system is closed- or open-proportional, even if he must do time in prison,” said the Jambi chapter chairman of Golkar, H. Zoerman Manap. So, is this the sign that Akbar Tandjung will prevail?

AZ, Kelik M. Nugoroho, Abdul Manan (Jakarta), Syaipul Bakhori (Jambi)

TEMPO, MARCH 03, 2003-025/P. 22 Heading National

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