Category Archives: elections

Simon Butt on MK Elections Jurisprudence (Indonesia)

The Centre for Democratic Institutions commissioned Prof. Simon Butt, probably the foremost Western expert on Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) jurisprudence, to assess the MK’s handling of local elections cases in this report. In particular, Butt worries that the court had not adequately defined its standard for overturning an election (a “structured, systematic, and massive” breach) and does not rigorously evaluate evidence.

This report was published in March, so long before Akil-gate, but it still provides invaluable to the MK’s elections cases and some of the problems that plagued the system even before this October. One has to wonder now how much of the MK’s fuzziness on these matters was deliberate.

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Filed under elections, indonesia, Mahkamah Konstitusi, Simon Butt

Recount (Malaysia)

On May 5, 2013, Malaysia’s ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, won a resounding victory in Malaysia’s 13th general election. Few were surprised that it captured a majority of Parliament (133 seats vs. 89 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat). What was surprising was how disproportionate the BN’s seat  share was compared to its popular vote share (60% vs. 47.38%). The opposition alleges not just that gerrymandering has created safe districts for the BN, but also that the BN engaged in vote-rigging and foul play.

Now, the PR has filed a lawsuit against the Elections Commission before the Malaysian High Court. Malaysian judges are not known for their willingness to confront the political elite. Malaysian legal scholar Ratna Rueban Balasubramaniam argues judges ought to view the elections case as an opportunity to enforce the rule of law, not as a improper infringement in political activity.

While the judiciary’s past actions do not hint at judicial activism, this will certainly be the closely watched case in Malaysia for years – at least since the Anwar sodomy trial(s).

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Filed under Anwar Ibrahim, elections, Malaysia

Americanization of Indonesia’s presidential elections? (Indonesia)

According to The Jakarta Post, Mahfud has announced his support for President SBY’s plans to require the Democratic Party to select its candidate through a primary system. While SBY’s second term expires next year, he is still the Democratic Party chairman and thus has some influence over the party’s internal governance.

In the interview, Mahfud is coy about how a primary system would affect his own presidential aspirations. However, given his general popularity but lack of influence amongst party bosses, it is easy to see Mahfud performing better in a primary. In fact, this could be a way for Mahfud himself to enter the Democratic Party and sidestep party elders. Moreover, given that most of the other major parties have already proposed presidential candidates, a primary system would have the most impact in the Democratic Party.

While I’ve previously stated that Mahfud’s chances at reaching the presidency are a longshot, my reasons for stating so were his lack of strong party organization. If he were in fact to be nominated by the Democratic Party, that would boost his chances considerably.

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Filed under elections, indonesia, Mahfud, SBY

(Dissolve) Party Time

A few weeks ago, I’d mentioned a report about changes to Indonesia’s Mahkamah Konstitusi. In particular, the legislature passed a law stripping the court of its jurisdiction over election disputes, particularly dissolution of political parties. (Of course, this very function has been at the heart of Thailand’s constitutional politics recently). Now, some Indonesians seem to be rallying in support of the court. According to The Jakarta Post, Pong Harjatmo, a former actor, has asked the Constitutional Court to strike the law down. Pong alleges that, “The people vote for a political party during elections. But after the party wins and gains political control, the people seem to lose the right to control the parties”

This presents an interesting question about the relationship between democracy and judicial review. Many Western scholars bemoan judicial review as an undemocratic constraint on the popular will. However, in many cases, courts have acted to enforce rights that elected governments chose to ignore. Of course, one such case is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to abolish segregation. Now, it seems some Indonesians hope their Constitutional Court can play a similar role, protecting them from the corruption and abuses so prevalent in Indonesian politics.

We’ll see whether these efforts are successful. The biggest question is whether Pong and his fellow protestors gather more support. So far, while Indonesians have complained about corruption, the Constitutional Court has been viewed as a minor player. It seems citizens would have to believe that the Court would play a larger role in enforcing fundamental rights in return for public support.

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Filed under constitutional review, elections, indonesia

Better not bring any "unfounded accusations"

While Burma’s new parliament has been seated for almost three months now, the Elections Commission has decided it will hear some of the complaints leftover from last November’s election. The statistics are revealing – of the 29 cases filed, 27 are by candidates from the pro-government USDP, while only 2 are from the opposition. However, another piece in an Irrawaddy article caught my eye:

A fee of 1 million kyat (US $1,136) is required to file an election fraud lawsuit with the authorities, and it carries a possible two-year jail term if the case is lost.

On Nov. 17, the EC told candidates who planned to challenge election results that they could be fined 300,000 kyat ($340) and sentenced to three years in prison if their accusations are deemed to be unfounded.

I have no background in election law, so I can’t really compare these punishments to other countries. However, they do seem somewhat harsh, especially given the vagueness of the term “unfounded accusations.” This all should discourage election-related litigation, and perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that opposition candidates have even filed any complaints. It will be interesting to see whether the cases are decidedly fairly. Last year, the commission received mixed reviews in that regard.

One might hope that by raising litigation costs, the commission would then decide any cases that it does receive impartially and efficiently. In other authoritarian regimes, high barriers to litigation or restrictions on the court’s jurisdiction have actually made the regime feel more secure in allowing some level of judges independence. For Burma, that might take some time, but might not be impossible over the longer term.

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Filed under Burma, elections, Myanmar