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2014 Indonesian elections present an opportunity for female candidates

With less than a year to prepare, Indonesian female candidates are gearing up for their 2014 general election campaigns. But if Indonesian women want to make a mark on national politics and achieve the gender equality they have been working toward, they need to put forward competent candidates with adequate track records who understand public policy.

Indonesia - Jakarta (Credit:Yohanes budiyanto/flickr/cc)

An increasing number of women in Indonesia now hold important positions as ministers, supreme justices and mayors. Currently 18 per cent of Indonesia’s House of Representatives are women. However in contrast to the 2009 election, 2014 election candidates will likely have to deal with voter apathy. The 2013 local government elections which have been taking place in different governments since January show significant decline in voter turnout. 

The low capacity of women parliamentarians

Also women parliamentarians elected in 2009 did not live up to the hopes of their constituencies, nor were they as effective as hoped in voicing issues related to women's interests. This stagnant performance was evidenced by their failure to pass several important regulations, including the Gender Equality and Justice Act, amendments to the Marriage Act and revisions of the Protection and Placement of Indonesian Workers Abroad laws.

The majority of female members of the parliament are newcomers who lack a firm grounding in politics, a strong track record working on issues of female empowerment and experience synergising with women’s organisations and movements. 

The serious constraints political parties face in institutionalisation, recruitment and overall function account in part for the low capacity of women parliamentarians. In the upcoming election, parties are nominating the same candidates for president or parliament members. When it comes to parliamentary candidates in particular, political parties prefer to nominate incumbents despite their poor track records or celebrities to make campaigning easier, rather than recruit qualified candidates.

The needs for training

To be fully prepared for the upcoming elections, political parties should consider training candidates, especially women, and invest in political education, interest aggregation and socialisation. 

Golkar has held trainings on legislation processes and development issues for female candidates. And a number of newer political parties have followed suit, such as the Democratic Party (current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party), whose joint program with the University of Indonesia is preparing female candidates with strategies in campaigning, fundraising and voter mapping. 

Strategies like these need to be replicated to increase the capacity of female candidates in all political parties. 

Women candidates will also have to build a strong base of followers and be intensely involved in party administration in order to qualify as legislative candidates. To do so, they need to link up with organisations that have similar concerns, to build a cadre of potential voters. With so many female organisations in Indonesia – faith-based, youth-based, education-based, economy-based, environment-based or health-based – there are many potential sources of votes for women candidates. 

Bargaining power post-2014

Assuming they do well in the general election, another potential strategy women candidates could implement is to use votes they receive in the 2014 election as bargaining power for strategic positions and important issues debated in parliament. 

Women parliamentarians need to improve their knowledge and capacity to perform tasks to bring forward changes from within the Parliament. With an increase in the capacity of female legislators, along with an increase in women's representation in decision-making bodies, Indonesian women will hopefully gain the equality they have been working for.

Ani Soetjipto is a lecturer at the University of Indonesia’s International Relations Department of Political and Social Sciences Faculty and Post Graduate Program in Gender Studies. She also serves as a Senior Researcher at the University of Indonesia’s Centre for Political Studies and for the Women’s Political Caucus of Indonesia. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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