Learning from Jakarta on simultaneous polls - Hindustan Times

Learning from Jakarta on simultaneous polls

Mar 02, 2024 09:51 PM IST

For India, Indonesia is a living laboratory to study the One-Nation, One-Election system, though their electorate is only about a quarter of India’s

Indonesia went to the polls on February 14, and the results are expected by March 20. It is interesting to note that ever since its return to democracy in 2004, Indonesia’s general elections have happened in the same year as India’s.

Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto votes at a polling station during the general election in Indonesia.(REUTERS) PREMIUM
Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto votes at a polling station during the general election in Indonesia.(REUTERS)

While the official results were awaited, within hours of the polls closing, quick counts emerged – a mix of exit polls along with early results from some booths. General Prabowo Subianto, the defence minister, and Gibran Raka, his vice-presidential candidate, are expected to be the winners. The other two candidates have not conceded so far. Over the last 20 years, quick count results have varied only marginally from the final results.

Indonesia has been moving towards a one-nation, one-poll system, which is under discussion in India. This is under the revised law since 2019 when simultaneous elections were introduced under a Constitutional Court judgment in that country. Indonesia has a voting age of 17 and 204 million voters (military and police personnel are not allowed to vote) – and the turnout on February 14 was 85%.

On polling day, a voter received several ballot papers. One for the presidential election, another for the House of Representatives (the Lok Sabha equivalent), the Regional Representative Council (the Upper House equivalent, but with directly elected members, on a non-party basis), and for members of local legislative bodies at the provincial and city/regency level outside Jakarta. Overseas voters got two ballots: For president and for the House of Representatives, to be cast by postal ballots submitted at the embassy. Regional governors are not part of this poll process due to the law of decentralisation. Gubernatorial elections for all 38 provinces are likely in November.

The main negative consequence of the 2019 simultaneous elections was the death of over 600 officials, primarily from exhaustion. This year 84 died! It was expected that running simultaneous elections would enhance efficiency and control costs. It has not. According to one report, the 2019 simultaneous elections cost 60% more than the 2014 elections. The 2024 election budget was $1.7 billion. Proponents believe that holding elections over a few consecutive days rather than one day and introducing e-voting will reduce the stress of concurrent polls.

The parliamentary and presidential elections were conjoined in 2014. Subsequently, those for local and regional bodies were added – 800,000 booths handled the 204-million-strong electorate. Counting of the paper ballots is manual and takes long whereas, in India, the conduct of the election is spread over several weeks but the counting is on a common day and quick.

There are 24 registered national parties, and 18 participated this time for the 580-member parliament from 84 constituencies. Proportional representation plays a large role in the allocation of seats. Thus, aggregation of votes and scoring a higher percentage is the focus of every party, not individual MP campaigns.

A party requires a minimum of 4% votes nationally to get a seat in parliament. In the 2019 elections, nine parties qualified; this time, it could be eight. Since no party has the majority, coalitions are the norm. This time, the four parties that backed the Prabowo-Gibran ticket did not appear to meet the majority in parliament, despite winning over 50% votes in the presidential election. They are reaching out to other parties who backed losing candidates to obtain a legislative majority. Parties also seek a higher vote share because a presidential candidate can be nominated only by a party or a coalition that has a minimum of 20% of the seats in parliament.

To win a presidential election, the candidate must not only secure 50% plus votes at the national level but also a majority of the votes in 20% of the provinces. That is why the slow counting of votes at the provincial level remains important.

For India, Indonesia is a living laboratory to study the One-Nation, One-Election system, though their electorate is only about a quarter of India’s. Their security concerns seem less prominent. But, staggering concurrent elections over a short period would have reduced the stress from the process. And EVMs could speed up their counting process. India already has these aspects in place.

Gurjit Singh is a former ambassador to Indonesia. The views expressed are personal

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