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Indonesia court rejects system change before election

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia’s constitutional court yesterday shot down a proposed change to the country’s electoral system that rights advocates had decried as an attack on democracy, ahead of a vote next year.

The legal challenge stoked fears of a return to Indonesia’s autocratic past and a potential delay to February’s presidential and legislative polls, which could have allowed Indonesian President Joko Widodo to extend his rule past the two-term limit.

The court rejected a bid by a member of the governing Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to move the world’s third-biggest democracy to a closed-ballot voting system that would have only allowed party leaders to choose Members of Parliaments.

Constitutional court chief justice Anwar Usman said in a hearing yesterday that he “rejects the plaintiffs’ petition in its entirety”.

A ruling the other way would have been binding and could not have been immediately challenged.

The closed-ballot system was used during autocratic former president Suharto’s rule and kept after his downfall in the late 1990s.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo. PHOTO: AFP

Since 2008, Indonesia has operated on an open-ballot system where voters cast ballots directly for specific lawmakers.

Critics had questioned the independence of the court as Chief Justice Usman is Widodo’s brother-in-law.

But the Indonesian leader has repeatedly denied any attempts to prolong his presidency beyond the 10-year limit.

The eight other parties in parliament opposed the PDI-P-backed change before yesterday’s ruling.

The petition – tabled last year by six plaintiffs including the PDI-P member – argued the open system had created a money-driven competition between candidates which included accusations of vote-buying.

Human rights experts criticised the proposal and said a ruling in favour of the change would have marked a dark day for democracy in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“It is a continuing attack on democracy,” Director of Amnesty International Indonesia Usman Hamid, told AFP before the ruling.

“Indonesian civic space has been attacked. Indonesian political opposition has been attacked. And now electoral integrity.”

But yesterday’s decision means people will carry on voting for individual politicians in future elections, instead of parties on the ballot paper.

In the last election in 2019, more than 150 million Indonesians voted for over 200,000 candidates.