Since the founding of the republic, we have been facing a deficit of candidates for president, forcing the nation to let authoritarianism rule over the country for more than 50 years. The same scarcity took place when we held the 2014 presidential election, leading the nation into a clear-cut division that has left many unhealed wounds.
The same threat of polarization is creeping in, with the incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo facing a potential rematch against Prabowo Subianto in the upcoming election slated for April 19 next year. If it happens, nobody can prevent history from repeating itself: a smear campaign used in a massive, structured and systematic manner at the expense of common sense. Fake news and the exploitation of ethnic, group and religious sentiments will characterize the election once again, keeping our democracy from maturing.
The hashtag #2019gantipresiden (change the president) and more recently the so-called Beijing axis vs Mecca axis narrative only signals that Indonesia is heading for the same, if not worse, hateful political contestation.
The Jokowi administration has a share in creating the divide for proposing a high presidential threshold — 20 percent of House of Representatives seats and 25 percent of the popular vote. The House passed the provision that technically would turn the 2019 presidential election into another two-horse race or three-way-tie affair.
We have stood against the scheme from the beginning on the grounds that the threshold was no longer relevant as soon as the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a petition demanding simultaneous legislative and presidential elections in 2014. The mechanism to set the presidential threshold for the 2019 election is flawed and hurts our logic too because it was based on the outcome of the 2014 legislative election.
The ruling coalition might claim to have won its fight for the high presidential threshold in a democratic way, but the decision and its process showed a clear disrespect for democracy. Our faith in democracy should be translated into an equal opportunity for every citizen to aspire to the presidency, provided that they meet certain requirements that are made to ensure only the best qualify.
It is due to our belief in democracy that we lend support to a group of people who are challenging the threshold in the Constitutional Court, some of whom lost in their first trial last January. In that ruling, two justices on the nine-justice panel dissented, but the new petition will throw the debate open.
In fact, the threshold has prevented alternative candidates, who may be better than existing ones, from rising, whereas real democracy provides as many choices as possible. As a big nation, Indonesia deserves more than two or three candidates.
Anything can happen to the petition, including the possibility of the court withholding the judicial review until after the General Elections Commission closes registration of presidential candidates on Aug. 10. Unless the court defies the spirit of the reform movement, however, there is no way that the presidential threshold should stay.