Indonesia loses a champion of electoral reform

Husni Kamil Manik's term as leader of the General Elections Commission (KPU) was marked by an an unprecedented commitment to openness and transparency. Photo by M Agung Rajasa for Antara.
Husni Kamil Manik’s term as leader of the General Elections Commission (KPU) was marked by an an unprecedented commitment to openness and transparency. Photo by M Agung Rajasa for Antara.

 

On 7 July, the Eid celebrations of many Indonesians were disrupted by the news that Husni Kamil Manik, director of the General Elections Commission (KPU), had passed away. His death from complications associated with diabetes, aged just 41, is a huge loss for Indonesian democracy. Having led the KPU since 2012, Husni came to national prominence during the highly charged 2014 legislative and presidential election campaigns. With his characteristic calm but firm manner, he left a deep impression on the Indonesian public.

 

Working in elections management requires an ability to remain fair and impartial no matter the situation. Husni had this skill. He was known as open and prepared to listen to anyone. He instilled these traits in the institution he led, which pioneered ground-breaking reforms in elections information and data transparency.

 

Husni came to lead the KPU at a time when its standing had been severely diminished by claims of serious manipulation of the voters list in the 2009 elections. The KPU had refused to make its data available and was held in contempt as elitist and exclusive. In his few years as leader, Husni was able to turn this reputation around and restore trust in the KPU by committing to the widespread use of technology to improve transparency. He established an online voter registration database (called Sidalih) that compiled the previously decentralised voter registries, introduced an online logistics distribution system (Silog), and scanned and uploaded the counts from individual polling stations to a national server that could be accessed by the public (Situng).

 

In fact, openness and transparency became hallmarks of the KPU under Husni. The collection and counting of votes at Indonesian polling stations (or TPS) has been described by many international elections experts as one of the most open and accountable vote counting processes in the world. The voting station is open to the public, and each vote is counted and confirmed in front of representatives from the elections observation body and competing parties. But transparency used to stop at this point. The 2012 Elections Law states that the “recapitulation” or counting of votes at each administrative level should be done manually, starting from polling stations, and progressing to villages, subdistricts, districts, provinces and, finally, the national level. This gradual recapitulation phase can take more than a month and is highly vulnerable to manipulation. In the past, there was no way for citizens to monitor the count through to the final stages of recapitulation.

 

Aware of the potential for fraud in this process, Husni and the KPU scanned and uploaded TPS results to official KPU websites to allow citizens to participate in monitoring the results. It was the KPU’s commitment to transparency that allowed the crowdsourcing initiative Kawal Pemilu to step in and safeguard the vote. Members of the public were encouraged to check TPS results and report any mistakes to the KPU helpdesk to be re-checked and corrected. In 2014, the KPU only made its count publicly available when figures had been finalised. But in the 2015 simultaneous regional elections, the KPU followed the lead of Kawal Pemilu and uploaded the results of its recapitulation process at each stage, allowing citizens to compare results in real time.

 

Kawal Pemilu might have been one of the most exciting stories to emerge from the 2014 elections, but it was only one of the outcomes of the reforms implemented by Husni and his colleagues at the KPU. They worked hard to cultivate an inclusive and collaborative culture for the formulation of KPU policy. Almost all the regulations published by the KPU under Husni’s watch first passed through a phase of meaningful consultation with the public, civil society and decision makers. KPU made available space for the public to contribute ideas and opinions about the running of elections.

 

This spirit of consultation and openness led to many positive legal developments. Take, for example, KPU Regulation No. 7 of 2013 on Candidacy, which required parties to fulfil a quota of 30 percent female representation in every electoral district. This provision was included in the 2009 elections but was not enforced. Under Husni, the KPU disqualified 77 candidates form five parties in seven electoral districts for not meeting the threshold. As a result,the proportion of women candidates in the national (DPR) and regional (DPRD) legislatures in 2014 exceeded 35 percent for the first time. Although the number of women eventually elected was still less than 20 percent, the 2014 elections set an important precedent for the active participation of women in elections.

 

The transparency reforms under Husni also helped to strengthen the quality of public participation in elections. The KPU uploaded the resumes of DPR and DPRD candidates to its official online portals and civil society groups then used this data to launch initiatives like Jari Ungu (Purple Finger), which provided voters with information about the candidates and their track records. Tempo Magazine named Jari Ungu as one of its “people” of the year in 2014, for its success in inspiring ordinary citizens to get to know their candidates. The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), the organisation I lead, also took advantage of KPU’s commitment to transparency, creating a database of verified elections data in a format that could be used by developers to create mobile applications for voter education and information. More than 60 voter education and information apps were produced by Perludem in association with the programming and developer community during the 2014 elections.

 

The KPU took advantage of the rapid development of, and interest in, information and communication technology to better serve citizens’ electoral rights. For the first time in history, Indonesian voters could visit a KPU website to check if their name was included on registered voters list. More than 190 million voters were registered on the Fixed Voters List (DPT) for the 2014 Presidential Election, making the KPU the holder of the largest online voter database in the world.

 

It would not be overstating things to describe the 2014 and 2015 elections as the most open and transparent elections in the history of Indonesian democracy. There is still much work to be done, to be sure, but in Husni’s hands, the KPU became a beacon of openness and transparency. His efforts showed that Indonesian democracy can provide lessons for other democratic countries around the world.

 

Selamat jalan Husni Kamil Manik. We will carry on your work strengthening Indonesian democracy.

 

Categories: Elections

Tags: Husni Kamil Manik, Obituary