A little over a month is left for the presidential and legislative election campaigns, with women candidates facing even harder challenges than those in the 2014 elections, candidates, lawmakers and women activists say.
Those challenges range from a highly divisive presidential candidates contestation to the fact that thousands of candidates will be faceless. Unlike in 2014, ballot sheets for over 192 million eligible voters will not contain the faces of legislative candidates, including almost 3,000 women.
Only candidates for the Regional Representative Council (DPD) will have their pictures on the ballot sheets for the first simultaneous elections on April 17.
Despite a historic 45 percent, or 3,194, of nearly 8,000 legislative candidates being women, researchers at the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) said the increasing technicalities of the world’s “most complex elections” face a larger risk of invalid votes, which could further reduce votes for women.
Last year’s simultaneous local elections resulted in over 3 million invalid votes, Titi Anggraini of Perludem said.
She was among participants of Monday’s discussion involving dozens of candidates for the national, provincial, regental and municipal legislative bodies apart from those for the DPD, organized by the Indonesian Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (KPPI) at the House of Representatives and women activists.
Political parties jumping ship have added to the challenges of all candidates, particularly women negotiating a patriarchal society and especially those with few links to the political elite. Researchers say almost 40 percent of women candidates are those related to figures in the local and national levels of political parties and administrations.
“Legislative elections should be separated again from the presidential elections,” said Rita Yusrita Basit of the Golkar Party who is running for the Jakarta legislative council.
Further, affirmative action policies for women representatives have become “stagnant”, said researchers from the University of Indonesia (UI) and Perludem.
Thanks to heavy pressure from activists working with lawmakers and the National Commission for Violence against Women, affirmative action policies in the election laws and regulations have progressed incrementally -- from token acknowledgement of 30 percent of women legislative candidates ahead of the first 2004 post-New Order elections, to the disqualification of political parties in any electoral district where they failed to field 30 percent of women among their candidates for the 2014 legislative elections.
No progress has been seen since then towards a quota of elected representatives. Even to meet political parties’ minimum mandatory quota of 30 percent women candidates for each electoral district, “we will likely see even more familial relations” among the political elite, said Sri Budi Eko Wardhani of the Political Studies Laboratory of UI’s Faculty of Social and Political Sciences.
Incumbent lawmaker Sherisada Manaf of the Democrat Party questioned whether women were still mere “objects” for political parties to meet their minimum requirements. Having been required to pay various amounts such as paying witnesses at voting stations, training and campaigns, she said there was no guarantee that the parties would place women in the coveted seats.
Sri said political parties could pay for a lot for surveys but few shelled out funding for the training of their own candidates.
Titi said as Indonesia’s democracy became increasingly considered “mature”, international donors have pulled out to the point that for the 2019 elections there has hardly been support for the training of women candidates. Regulations were needed to ensure funding for the training of female cadres for political parties, which already received state funding based on their portion of votes, Titi added.
Another Perludem researcher, Heroik Pratama, said political parties still played on voters’ convictions that candidates numbered 1 and 2 would likely secure contested seats, while the numbering of candidates theoretically had no impact in the current proportional open election system. As a result, candidates vie among themselves within their respective parties to gain the top numbers, with women candidates saying they had little hope of winning if they were not related to national or local elites.
In response to idealism voiced by candidates, incumbent R. Saraswati Djojohadikusumo of the Gerindra Party said future women lawmakers “must be prepared to be replaced” by their political parties if they were considered to violate the party’s rules.
Whether resulting policies would be gender sensitive hardly depended on individual lawmakers as voting was rare, she said, but on the factions of political parties. Fear of the political party’s authority to revoke lawmakers explained representatives who stop being vocal once their term started, said Sara.
Activists said regardless of the struggle for more women representatives, political parties continued to prioritize men who were seen as politicians more suited for the pursuit of power. Male politicians also eagerly aspired for House seats mainly for “status and life-long pensions”, Yudi Irlang Kusumaningsih of the Maju Perempuan Indonesia (Onward Indonesian Women) group said.
The legal absence of a spending limit for campaigns increasingly hampered women candidates, Sara added, echoing researchers who cite a lack of access to resources as one factor inhibiting women politicians.
In sharing experiences on how to deal with various challenges some candidates said they relied on friends and family. From the new Berkarya Party, which split from Golkar, another candidate said yet another challenge was overcoming the tendency of middle-class women who refrained from discussing politics.
“How would we get enough qualified women candidates when they say it’s taboo to talk about it?” Wartini said. Many policies affected women the most, such as the price of basic goods, she added.
Yuniyanti Chuzaifah of the women rights’ body reminded the women candidates to leave “a meaningful legacy” such as pushing for the sexual violence bill when elected. However, researcher Sri said the highly divisive presidential election campaign had led to the virtual drowning of such urgent issues.