Indonesia’s incoming president began his political ascent as a mayor in a system of local elections. The parties of the candidate he beat in July will try to change the law next week to prevent that happening again. Lawmakers will vote Sept. 25 on a bill to revise a 2004 law on regional government that enabled direct elections. The draft, seen by Bloomberg News, would turn the clock back to a system of local assemblies choosing regional leaders that was created after the downfall of the late dictator Suharto. The vote in parliament, where parties on the losing side of the presidential ballot now hold 75 percent of seats, poses a test for the world’s third-largest democracy and President-elect Joko Widodo, who got his start as mayor of the city of Solo. The bill, opposed by Widodo and outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is sponsored by the coalition of losing candidate Prabowo Subianto and may mark a reversal of the shift in power to the regions that began in 2001.
“It is certainly an attempt by some to claw back power both from the regions and, worse, from the voters,” said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based political analyst and former country director for advocacy group the National Democratic Institute. “The praetorian guard of the New Order want to reverse a reform that has gotten out of their control” he said, referring to a term used to describe the administration of Suharto, once Prabowo’s father-in-law.
The bill, if approved, would reduce the chances for a young crop of hands-on mayors across the country to follow Widodo, known as Jokowi, into national politics. Jokowi’s successor as Jakarta Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, resigned this month from Prabowo’s Gerindra party in protest at its support of the bill. There is no provision in the bill to abandon the direct elections that occur at a national level.