The Regression of Democracy and Systematic Violations of Political Rights: A Case from Jakarta’s Special Region Bill

by | Jan 9, 2024

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About Nivia

Nivia is an undergraduate law student at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia, majoring in international law with a focus on international humanitarian law, international environmental law, and international human rights law. She currently works as a research assistant for the Gadjah Mada Center for Energy Study. Her thesis focuses on Third World Approaches to International Law and ecocide.

The current draft of Jakarta Special Region Bill (the Draft) proposed by Indonesian House of Representatives presents a blatant disregard of citizens’ political rights under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides the right to participate in public affairs and to vote. Article 10(2) of the Draft provides that the Governor and Deputy Governor are to be appointed and dismissed by the President, taking into account the opinion or recommendation of Local People’s Representative Council. This blog argues that this regressive move of local electoral democracy threatens to deprive citizens of their political rights.

A democratic society, in theory, provides a fertile ground for the effective protection and realisation of human rights. In order to build such a democratic society, the right to vote – based on the free expression of the will of the electorate – must be guaranteed by law. Article 25 of ICCPR plays a fundamental role in ensuring governments are elected based on citizens’ will and consent. In contradiction of this, the Draft law confers on the President the exclusive right to choose a Governor and Deputy Governor. Although Article 10(2) mentions a role for the Local People’s Representative Council in providing opinions or recommendations, such involvement is arguably futile, as only the President has the final say on appointments. Such a violation of political rights under the ICCPR not only eliminates public participation in these elections, but further presents the President with a pandora’s box in which he may install his crony within local government. Thus, the Governor is liable to act according to the President’s needs, and not the people’s aspirations.

Although the Human Rights Committee in Mazon Costa v Spain emphasised that Article 25 of ICCPR does not impose a specific political model or structure, in its Concluding Observations on Swaziland, the Committee highlighted that the concentration of power into one branch is incompatible with Article 25. The withdrawal of the right to vote from the people to the President, without any meaningful intervention from the legislative branch, indicates such concentration of power to the executive. Hence, it is a palpable violation of Article 25 of ICCPR.

The exercise of the rights under Article 25 of the ICCPR may indeed be excluded on grounds which are established by law and which are objective and reasonable. However, the criteria of objectivity and reasonableness are not clear, as they have been decided thus far on case-by-case basis. The Indonesian House of Representatives presented two main reasons for its proposal in the Draft, namely, the expense of elections and the need to increase central government’s effective management of many national assets in Jakarta. While the high cost of elections is not an exclusive problem of Jakarta, the protection of national assets can still be achieved by coordination between central and local government. Therefore, it is clear that the Draft manifestly breaches the rights to participate in public affairs and to vote.

Indonesia has a clear historic example of how the designation of Governor by the President has previously resulted in manipulations of democracy, violations of economic and social rights by means of corruption, as well as the exploitation of local resources during New Order Era. Under Act. No. 5 of 1974, President Suharto (New Order Era) specified the hierarchy of local government and appointed them either directly or through the Ministry of Home Affairs. Hence, the appointed Governor served more as agent of central government rather than the independent leader of an autonomous local government. In the first parliamentary election under Suharto’s rule in 1971, these designated Governors, along with military and civilian bureaucrats, were required to persuade their subordinates and local voters to vote for Golkar (also of President Suharto’s Party). Consequently, the rights to fair election, freedom of expression, and to information were systematically abused. Citizens were accordingly forced to vote for Golkar, while the opposition and its aspirations were suppressed, facilitated by local elites also designated by the President. Through these elites, the President was capable of the mass exploitation of local natural and human resources, producing environmental degradation that still persists today.

These consequences are amplified by the fact that Jakarta – as the current capital of Indonesia – retains a significant role in politics, the economy, and demography. As the most populous city, the decisions carried out by its local government affect 10.68 million inhabitants. Precisely because of the scale of the deprivation of rights proposed by the House of Representative, it is critical that we continue to scrutinise Indonesia’s putative democratic values and civil rights.




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