How can Indonesia increase the number of women legislators?

Political parties have increased the numbers of female legislative candidates. But the numbers of elected female legislators haven’t significantly increased. Reuters/Beawiharta

As we enter 2018, the Indonesian public is starting to discuss the country’s next year’s general election. Aside from the predictions on presidential candidates, it is also important to talk about legislative candidates who will represent the people in parliament, as well as women’s representation in the assembly.

Women’s representation in the legislative body is important, not only to balance out the number of males and females in parliament. It is hoped the presence of women legislators will drive women’s interest issues, such as poverty eradication, education parity, and health care, as policy priorities.

Women’s representation in Indonesian state parliament has continuously increased from year to year. When the first election was held in 1955, women only secured 5.06% of the seats. The figure has gradually increased to 11.4% in 1997.

After the end of Suharto’s regime, a number of legal reforms introduced the gender quota system that aimed to increase the electability of women.

Gender quota not effective

However, looking at the experience of three election cycles in 2004, 2009, and 2014, the gender quota that obliges political parties to place at least 30% of women in their candidates list has yet to significantly increase women’s electability.

Women’s representation in parliament is important. Reuters/Beawiharta

In 2004, women only managed to secure 11.24% of the seats in parliament. While in the next election, the rate increased into 18.21%. Meanwhile in 2014, women’s representation dropped slightly to 17%.

In general, the number of women legislative candidates from seven competing parties continues to increase. But then why hasn’t this translated to maximum electability for women?

Number 1 on the list

In their book discussing political recruitment Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart offered three levels of analysis: systematic factors, party factors, and individuals.

The Election Law, the political party system, and the country’s legal system are all under the systematic factors. Meanwhile, party factors include ideology and internal party rules regarding nominating women as legislative candidates.

The last factor, the individuals, includes motivation and the candidate’s resources.

I will focus my analysis on how political parties nominate female legislative candidates. We can measure the trend of placing women candidates at the top of the list of parties legislative candidates and the electability of women as the top candidate.

Statistical analysis from election results data shows the majority of elected legislative candidates are those who were at the top of the party’s legislative candidates list.

The graph below displays that list position greatly influenced a candidate’s electability. However, we should note that in the 2014 election candidates listed as number four and so on had a tenfold increase in terms of electability, from 1.6% in 2004 to 16.4%.

Meanwhile, the electability of candidate number one decreases from 73.6% in 2004 to 62.1% in 2014. This happened due to the “open list” system, enacted in 2014. Here, the candidate’s victory is determined only by the number of votes. This system increased the chance for candidates that were nominated under big numbers in the list; a trend that has continued to go up.

How parties nominate female legislative candidates

Analysis on seven political parties that competed in three general elections shows that each party has a different pattern in nominating female candidates.

The graph below shows two Islam-based parties, the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), placed women candidates on number one with a contrasting trend.

PPP continuously increased the number of female candidates nominated as number one in the candidate’s list. Out of all parties, they have the highest ratio of women candidates nominated as number one. On the other hand, PKS continuously reduced the number of women candidates under number one.

In the 2014 general election, PPP placed women as number one nominees in 22 electoral districts (out of 77 electoral district coutrywide), meanwhile PKS only had one electoral district with a female nominee as the number one candidate.

Other parties, except for Golkar, have increased their allocation of women candidates nominated under number one. The Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the party of the current president Joko Widodo, had the sharpest increase of nearly 600% in 2014, compared to the 2009 election.

In the 2014 election, it was clear that 90% of the female candidates elected from PPP were those nominated as number one. In other words, a lot of PPP voters supported women candidates placed in the top numbers. Meanwhile in other parties such as Golkar and Democrat, the majority of the female winners are not those nominated as number one, some of them went into the race under number seven, eight, and nine.

This graph maps the success rate of women candidates nominated as number one on candidate lists in the 2009 and 2014 elections. In the 2009 election, the Democrat Party, PDI-P and PKS managed to send 100% of the women candidates listed as number one to parliament.

However, in the next election, the “success rate” dropped for all parties, except the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the National Awakening Party (PKB). This was caused partly by the open list system that enables all candidates to win regardless of their position on the candidate list.

Another aspect was that there were less women on the top of the list, such as in PKS where a woman was nominated as number one in only one electoral district.

What next?

Learning from the three election cycles, what can parties do to increase the number of women in Indonesia’s parliament? One thing is to continue to place women on the top of the candidate list, although with the open system, candidates placed anywhere on the list can win.

Additionally, some politicians and women’s rights activists have urged political parties to play a bigger role in preparing new women party cadres by providing serious political training for female legislative election candidates.

A survey by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in 2010 indicate that voters would like female candidates to have a number of traits. The qualities that voters look mostly look for are intelligence (35%), not corrupt (26%), and political experience (20%). This shows that to ensure they gain votes, women candidates must increase their value propositions for each of those factors.

In the end, increasing the number of women candidates is important to increase women’s electability in the election. It’s also important for political parties to place women at the top of their candidates list. But more importantly, parties should increase the quality of candidates so voters will be sure to vote for women candidates.

This article was originally published in Indonesian