It was a late chilly April evening, I have just gotten back home from campus and my phone started buzzing profusely, a chain of messages from a group text arrived, everyone discussing the same topic with the same tone.
My friends were talking about their national election experience, and the same as majority of people my age, it was their first.
Texts such as “I didn’t know anyone in the parliamentary ballot, so I basically voted for a random guy from a party” or “can anyone please help me who to choose for? I don’t know any of them (the legislative candidates) frequently came up in the group chats during the election day.
Indonesians, like many of my friends and me, are informed and knowledgeable on presidential candidates, but we are very much clueless on legislative candidates.
A statement from the Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit) told Jakarta Post that only less than 60 percent of legislative candidates’ data are accessible during the April 2019 elections.
Indonesian voters’ exposure on the basic knowledge of legislative candidates particularly on a certain candidate’s political leanings are vital for transparency and accountability in the world’s third biggest democracy.
Moreover, this basic political knowledge serves as a reference to voters on choosing the right candidates that suited their views.
One of the component to improve Indonesia’s election’s transparency and accountability is for the Indonesian parliamentary to release its voting records on passing vital laws.
Hence this will help voters to identify a legislative member’s political leanings and which interests they served while participating as the member of the nation’s crucial representative parliamentary system.
The disclosing of information could be protected under the elucidation of law no 14 year 2008 which serves as the legal basis for the right of every person to obtain information, and the obligation for public agencies to provide and accommodate requests for information with limited exceptions.
These exceptions, under article 247 and 248 in the people’s council (DPR) code of conduct include matters of national security, thus parliament members have the rights to call a closed meeting, in which voting records or details pertaining the discussion or formation of a specific law in the meeting is confidential.
Unfortunately, these exceptions have been used as a loophole for parliament members to undermine the freedom of information and to pass unpopular laws.
In 2019, a controversial law named the “MD3” bill was passed by parliament, this law includes the revision of article 122 K and article 245 which has been heavily criticize by a number of scholars as giving parliamentary members protection against prosecution and giving power to criminalize critics.
It is unclear when the lawmakers inserted this law, and all of the parliamentary meetings about this law conducted as closed meetings. There are efforts on repealing this law, but until now it’s no cigar.
Furthermore, meetings between the 8th commission of DPR and the ministry of religion discussing Hajj funding has been conducted as closed meetings. These laws such as the “MD3” and Hajj funding bills should be open meetings, as religious and state administrative laws would have a profound effect on Indonesian society.
By knowing voting records and a parliament members’ political views, it would create an accountable environment for parliament members, as the people are allowed to control a parliament member’s promises during the elections, whether if it’s consistent to the laws that they voted to pass on.
Thus, in terms of candidacy’s campaign specifically parliament, campaign programs will transform into more of a dialogue concerning laws that a candidate offers or for incumbents, laws that they have passed or voted for.
Exposing voters to a parliament members’ track record in office offers a concrete data on a members’ motivation as an elected representative and in time, weed out the inadequate members.
This happened during the 2018 US mid-term election, where the majority of Americans decided that the congress wasn’t equipped with the right people to conserve laws that they hold dear such as securing the funding for the DREAM act (an immigration law that qualifies residency status for immigrants entering the country as an infant) and the Affordable Care Act.
Thus, much of the candidates ran their campaign basing on two ideas: health care and immigration, much of them lay out specific plans and laws on addressing these problems.
Such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or commonly referred by its voters as AOC, a then 28-year-old democratic candidate, who was depending on small donations for her campaign, ran against the most powerful congressman in the House of Representative, Joe Crowley.
She ran a progressive campaign, carefully addressing specific healthcare and immigration laws that she will put forward to the congress once voted in. The result of the election was staggering, 10 new senators were introduced, and a whopping 101 congressmen and congresswomen, including AOC, unseated the incumbents.
An inadequate parliament will ultimately lead to a dysfunctional government in terms of legislation, government could not pass or amend laws that are vital on governing the country, in this highly globalized and ever-changing world particularly, the issue has become more urgent.
A country needs to update its laws and regulations to fit in the current socio-political environment, and the government must act swiftly in evaluating current laws and making new ones to keep up with development in technologies and social changes in its society and the parliament’s role is vital in making these changes.
In Indonesia however, parliament has been far from effective, a recent study from the Forum for Concerned Citizens of the Indonesian Parliament (Formappi) an NGO, views the Parliament in the period of 2014-2019, is the most ineffective period since the reformation (1998), out of 50 proposed bills (RUU) only 5 passed as a bill (UU).
Furthermore, throughout the whole period the parliament’s attendance has never been over 50 percent. Thus by the statistics itself, the inefficiency of this parliament is appalling.
Recently there is a case for hope, as the 2019 elections yield 65 percent new members of parliament, much of them freshmen. However, without transparency in place, there’s no stopping them from doing the same.
The DPR has been constantly trying to market themselves as a trustworthy institution, with a poll in 2018 conducted by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) placed them as the least trustworthy out of all the government institutions.
Publicizing voting records and open meetings on crucial public laws could help fix the community’s trust. Furthermore, everyone should be held accountable for safeguarding transparency in the government, media needs to be more engaging in proposing and raise the awareness on the importance of legislative elections.
Democracy is more than just voting on a piece of paper, it is a right and privilege for everyone involved, but also an obligation for every part of the country to safeguard its components that makes it work effectively; with transparency and accountability playing a vital role in it.
It is time for Indonesia to relish its opportunity to improve our democracy, so there won’t be confused voters choosing random candidates anymore.