Petition to change voting system in Indonesia rejected ahead of 2024 poll

A woman casts her ballot during regional elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Sleman, Yogyakarta province, Indonesia on 9 December, 2020.Reuters

Indonesia's Constitutional Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit seeking a change to the country's election ballot system, clearing a potential complication and allaying fears of political interference in an election just eight months away.

Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, is set to hold simultaneous legislative and presidential elections in February 2024.

The case, brought by several politicians including from the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), had sought a return to a closed ballot system, raising concerns about political meddling and attempts to delay next year's polls.

President Joko Widodo is known, has denied that he is seeking to extend his time in office beyond the two-term limit and recently stated that he would not do anything that would "tarnish democracy".

A bench of eight judges on Thursday rejected the petition 7 to 1, allowing Indonesians to continue voting directly for individual lawmakers in future polls.

Reading the judgement, one judge, Suhartoyo, said the open ballot system, while not without its flaws, was more inclusive and democratic, while the closed system lacked transparency, limited public participation and was prone to nepotism.

Tim Lindsey, an expert in Indonesian law at the University of Melbourne said the ruling is a "rare positive sign for democracy in Indonesia at a time when it often seems under threat there or even in regression".

A PDI-P legislator said his party would abide by the ruling.

"We have to admit the court's review is very comprehensive," said Arteria Dahlan.

Critics had said changing the current open system would have taken Indonesia back to the era of authoritarian rule, when only heads of political parties were empowered to appoint lawmakers.

Eight out of nine parties represented in parliament, including those allied with the ruling PDI-P, had denounced the petition.