Legislative Quotas: Argentina, France, and Indonesia

Legislative Quotas: Argentina, France, and Indonesia

Country Profile: Argentina

Geographical location: South America

Population: 41 million (July 2010)

Majority religions: Roman Catholic 92% (less than 20% practicing)

Major historical developments: In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain but until World War II it was dominated by periods of internal political conflict, particularly between civilian and military factions. After World War II, an era of Peronist populism championed social justice (including female suffrage), Argentinean nationalism, and independence from foreign influence. This era came to end in 1976, when a military junta supported by the CIA took power in a coup. The years that followed saw intense repression during a “dirty war” in which thousands of dissidents “disappeared”. Democracy returned in 1983 after the military regime was widely discredited due to unprecedented corruption, the public’s revulsion over the dirty war, and their defeat by the British in Falklands War, all of which eventually led to free elections. In 2007, Argentina elected its first female president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.


Human Development Index (HDI) ranking: In 2010, Argentina ranked #46 out of a total of 169 countries measured worldwide. Political system: Argentina operates as a Republic, and the president serves as the chief of state and is elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Argentina also has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties must work together to form coalition governments.


Parliamentary system: Bicameral National Congress: Senate (upper house)

and Chamber of Deputies (lower house). Members of both houses are

elected by popular vote.


Electoral system for parliamentary elections: Argentina uses List Proportional Representation (List PR) system in which seats in the parliament are distributed to candidates or parties in proportion to the votes that they receive in the multi-member districts.


Quota type: Legislative Candidate Quotas: Ley de Cupos adopted in 1991 but later revised in 2000, reformed the country’s electoral law to mandate that all party lists must have a minimum of at least 30 percent women among their candidates for all parliamentary elections. To ensure women’s election, the law specified that the regulation of nominating 30 percent women applies to the number of seats that the party is trying to renew. The law also has rank order rules in that it requires at least one woman for every two men nominated on the party candidate lists (Semi-Zipper style all the way down the list); in case the party has only one or two seats to renew, at least one woman must be nominated as one of the top two candidates. In case the party lists do not comply with the electoral law, they will either not be approved or are subject to revision by a judge, who moves women candidates’ names to higher positions on the list prior to the election.


Female suffrage and standing for election: Argentinean women received this right in 1947, while their Argentinean men had received it in 1912.

Voter-turnout for previous parliamentary elections: 73.13% (2007); information for voter-turnout by gender is not readily available.

Women in the parliament (2009 Elections): 99 women from a total of 257 members (39% women).


Country Profile: France

Geographical location: Western Europe

Population: 64 million (July 2010)

Majority religions: Roman Catholic 83-88%; Muslim 5-10%

Major historical political developments: The French Revolution of 1789 witnessed the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen by the National Assembly, which extended citizenship rights solely to European, property owning men, despite women’s active participation in the revolution. Nonetheless, this document was among the first citizen rights documents in the world, though it did not expand citizenship rights to women. France became an imperial power colonizing parts of the African continent and the Middle East, but suffered extensive losses in its empire, wealth, and rank after the two World Wars. France has revised its constitution and electoral system several times, the last of which (the Fifth Republic) was in 1958, which made France’s political system a hybrid presidential-parliamentary governing system.


Human Development Index (HDI) ranking: In 2010, France ranked #14 from a total of 169 countries measured worldwide.


Political system: France operates as a Republic, and the president serves as the chief of state and is elected by popular vote for five-year terms. France also has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties often work together to form coalition governments. In France, the dominant parties are the Union for a Popular Movement, which is a rightist party led by Nicolas Sarkozy (elected in 2007), and the left leaning Socialist Party and the Green Party.


Parliamentary system: Bicameral Parliament: Senate (upper house) and National Assembly (lower house). For the Senate seats, an electoral college elects some of its members while the rest are filled according to a List Proportional Representation system, to which the parity law applies. Members of the National Assembly are elected by popular vote under a Two-Round System (TRS), as defined below, for single-member districts to serve five-year terms. The parity law requires parties to nominate equal percentages of women and men in the country’s single-member constituencies.


Electoral system for parliamentary elections: France uses the Two-Round System (TRS) only for their parliamentary elections in the lower house. TRS is a majoritarian system in that once voters have cast their first ballot for their single-member district, choosing one candidate or party among several, a runoff is held between the two candidates or parties with the best showing (the second election is avoided if in the first round a candidate or party receives absolute majority of the votes).


Quota type: Legislative Candidate Quotas: Parity Law or Parité which was adopted in 2000 constitutionally mandated that each party nominate 50 percent candidates of both sexes overall, but with no conditions regarding which districts female candidates should run for, nor strong

sanctions for noncompliance Female suffrage and standing for election: French women were among the last countries in Europe to receive the right to vote in 1944. Male suffrage in France was granted as early as 1792 in theory, since the turmoil of the revolutionary period made this ineffective, but in practice French men have voted continuously since 1848.


Voter-turnout for previous parliamentary elections: 60.44% (2007); information for voter-turnout by gender is not readily available.


Women in the parliament (2007 Elections): 109 women from a total of 577 members (19% women).


Country Profile: Indonesia

Geographical location: Southeastern Asia

Population: 242 million (July 2010)

Majority religions: Muslim 86.1%; Protestant 5.7%; Roman Catholic 3%; Hindu 1.8%

Ethnic Groups: Javanese 40.6%; Sundanese 15%; Madurese 3.3%; Minangkabau 2.7%; Betawi 2.4%; Bugis 2.4%; other or unspecified 29.9% Major historical developments: A former Dutch colony since the early 17th century (and briefly occupied by Japan in the 1940s), Indonesia eventually declared its independence in 1945; but it took four more years until Netherlands agreed to transfer sovereignty in 1949. A major blow to the stability and democratization of post-independence Indonesia was the brutal massacre of some half a million of its population in the 1960s, mostly intellectuals and nationalist elites, trade unionists, feminists and other social activists with the support of the CIA and military leaders under the pretext of preventing the creation of a communist state. They helped to set up one of the most corrupt dictatorships in Indonesia which was ousted only in 1998. Consequently although universal suffrage was established in 1945, it was not until 1999, after decades of political turmoil and repressive rule that Indonesia held its first free parliamentary election. Despite such turmoil, Indonesia is now the world’s third most populous democracy, and home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Also in 2001, Indonesia elected a female president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. In fact, although Indonesian women have been largely kept out of formal politics, they have always been present in the nation’s political struggles, beginning with the nationalist movements of the 1950s.


Human Development Index (HDI) ranking: In 2010, Indonesia ranked #108 out of a total of 169 countries measured worldwide.


Political system: Indonesia operates as a Republic, and the president is elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Indonesia also has a multiparty system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has a chance of gaining power alone, parties must reach the minimum 2.5% threshold of the popular vote to gain seats in the parliament.


Parliamentary system: Indonesia’s legislative branch consists of three bodies: one upper house, one lower house and one house for the regional level (this latter house is also integrated into the national level bodies to ensure their involvement in national level decision-making). Therefore, People’s Consultative Assembly or Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat (MPR) is the upper house and consists of members of the House of Representatives as well as the House of Regional Representatives. The role of the MPR is to inaugurate and impeach the president and in amending the constitution, but does not formulate national policy. On the other hand, the House of Representatives or Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR) is the primary legislative body in the country as it formulates and passes legislation at the national level; this body consists of 560 members who are popularly elected to serve five year terms.


Electoral system for parliamentary elections: Indonesia uses List Proportional Representation (List PR) system in which seats in the parliament are distributed to candidates or parties in proportion to the votes that they receive in the multi-member districts.


Quota type: In 2003 Indonesia adopted legislative quotas, or legally mandated measures embedded in the country’s electoral laws that required all parties to nominate at least one woman among every three candidates on party lists. Despite this powerful rank order rule, Indonesia’s quotas have been rendered less effective when the constitutional court in 2010 declared that parliamentary seat allocation cannot be based on how candidates were pre-ranked on party lists, rather the voters are to select the individual candidates from party lists as in an open list system which reduced the chance of women being elected.


Female suffrage and standing for election: Indonesian women and men received the right to vote in 1945, upon independence from colonial rule.

Voter-turnout for previous parliamentary elections: 84.09% (2004); information for voter-turnout by gender is not readily available.

Women in the parliament (2009 Elections): 101 women from a total of 560 members (18% women).


Legislative quotas, or quotas that are legally mandated by national or constitutional law, are the newest type of gender quota, appearing only in the 1990s as the issue of women’s representation increasingly gained prominence within the international community. The 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women, the transnational women’s movement, and feminist research and writing, all contributed to the growing emphasis on challenges facing women in formal politics. Legislative quotas are adopted by national parliaments either through constitutional or electoral law reform, and require all political parties to nominate a certain proportion of female candidates. Similar to party quotas, legislative quotas target the candidate selection process, but differ in that they are legally mandated for all parties. Legislative quotas apply only to the proportion of candidates, not to the ultimate proportion of women elected to parliament. Since these provisions are mandatory, they essentially require that national parliaments recognize “gender” as a political category, in effect altering the basic notions of equality and representation to allow for gender equality in the citizenship and democratization process (Krook 2009; Scott 2005). In other words, the state’s legal guarantee of women’s representation is in fact official acknowledgement that women’s underrepresentation in parliament is “undemocratic”. Various scholars see the adoption of legislative gender quotas by developing states as part of efforts to consolidate their democratization process.


Legislative quotas have been adopted mostly by Latin American states and post-conflict nations in Africa, the Middle East and South Eastern Europe. They often call for women to form 25 to 50 percent of total candidates on party lists, but vary greatly in their implementation depending on the wording of the legal provision and the sanctions for noncompliance. While some legislative quotas are “weak”, only vaguely outlining nomination mechanisms and with few or no penalties for non-abidance, others are more robust and rigorous concerning the selection and placement of female candidates, sanctions and oversight by external bodies. These elements greatly impact the success rate of quota legislations. In order to better analyze the key factors enabling successful implementation of legislative quotas.


The legislative quota experiences of Argentina and France provide a compelling comparison for several reasons. Firstly, although France adopted a more radical gender quota requiring 50 percent female candidacy, Argentina’s more moderate 30 percent quota led to significant increases

in female representation, while France’s did not. As well, women’s movements in both countries began their campaigns for legislative quotas in the late 1980s and early 1990s and, prior to quota adoption, both countries had almost identical proportions of women in parliament: 6 percent in the Argentine

Chamber of Deputies and about 7 percent in the French National Assembly. However by 2008, after several post-quota electoral cycles, women made up 40 percent of Argentina’s parliamentarians, but only 18 percent in France (Krook 2009, p. 161-162). The success of Argentina’s quota system and the failure of France’s deserve further analysis, since they clearly illustrate that adoption of high proportional quotas are not enough to sufficiently increase women’s parliamentary presence. By examining the historical context, adoption, and implementation of legislative quotas in these two states, we will shed light on some of the main factors that impacted their quota experiences.


We begin with a brief examination and comparison of Argentina and

France, and then look closely at very recently introduced quota provisions

in Indonesia. These three states differ significantly in terms of political and

institutional structures, and have had varying degrees of success with the

use of gender quotas. Thus they are valuable cases for examining the various

processes for implementing gender quotas and the different factors that

impact their implementation.

Argentina and France

Gender Quota Debates in Argentina: Argentinean women obtained the right to vote in 1947 after decades of organizing (Feijoo 1994). While Argentinean politics have been primarily male dominated, for a brief period during the 1950s the governing Peronist Party, under the influence of First Lady Eva Peron, voluntarily adopted a 30 percent female quota for party organs and elective positions.


This quota increased the proportion of female representatives to 22 percent, and placed Argentina fourth in the world in terms of women in parliament. However the coup d’état of 1955 which overthrew Peron’s government also put an end to the short-lived party quota, and women’s parliamentary presence fell drastically to a mere 2.2 percent. Following the series of military dictatorships that ruled over Argentina for decades, the early 1990s saw efforts to rebuild democratic institutions. Such reforms further enhanced and democratized the already existing Argentinean closed List PR electoral system.


Women’s groups and organizations played a central role in the democratic transition in Argentina, but their continued marginalization from politics revealed that democracy alone was not enough to bring about substantive changes in women’s representation. Argentinean women’s groups thus worked to forge links within the country as well as with the transnational and international feminist movements, and participated in several transnational conferences concerning women’s political underrepresentation; the Argentinean women’s movement determined that gender quotas offered a potential solution and began research and activism to that end. Women’s increased activism also influenced the left-leaning political parties, whose women’s committees included advocates for increased women’s representation. These women introduced the discourse on quota to their parties. Eventually a cross-party women’s network was organized, which pressed for the passage of a national quota law (Araujo and Garcia 2006).


Argentina’s democratization process engendered the emergence of a lively civil society and cultivated interest in social justice. Combined with the international community’s emphasis on women’s political presence, these elements provided the Argentinean women’s movement with the opportunity to push for legal reform to address the low level of female parliamentarians. These efforts finally resulted in the proposal of a few bills presented by female legislators from several parties in 1990. These bills, which were introduced to both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, not only called for a 30 percent quota of women on all candidate lists, but also required that female candidates be placed in electable positions; for example, placing a woman in every third position on party lists to ensure her election. When these bills came up for discussion in parliament, women legislators lobbied their colleagues, while the women’s movement mobilized to raise media and public awareness concerning the new bills and the status of women in parliament generally. The senate voted in favor of the bill, primarily out of expediency; the majority of senators did not expect the bill to pass, and assumed that in any case it would be rejected by the Chamber of Deputies. None of the parties had developed positions regarding the quota, though the bill did face some opposition in the Chamber. However, the situation shifted dramatically when President Menem made a last minute phone call urging Deputies, particularly members of his ruling party, to vote in favor of the bill. This intervention was at least in part due to the women’s movement lobby and the President’s realization that his party needed the support of female voters. The bill passed almost unanimously in November 1991.


However, the 1991 legislative quota provision (known as Ley de Cupos), was a watered down version of the bill originally introduced by female legislators. This law “amended Article 60 of the Electoral Code to stipulate that lists of candidates must include 30 percent women, in proportion which would make their election possible, and that lists that do not comply with this requirement would not be approved”. Unlike the original draft, the law did not specify where female candidates should be placed on the closed lists. This was rectified by a Presidential decree stating that the 30 percent quota applied to the number of seats that parties expected to win (to ensure women’s electability), and that non-compliance would result in the rejection of party lists by the electoral court. Despite this, for the 1993 elections several parties violated the provision, applying the quota to their entire list and not to the portion that was likely to be elected. The election thus failed to increase women’s parliamentary presence to the anticipated level, due in part to poor enforcement mechanisms (women’s movement and activists had to take the offending parties to court), and to the fact that only half of the Chamber’s 257 seats were up for election.


In preparation for the 1995 elections, women’s groups worked to ensure further clarifications of the quota law, and to outline enhanced enforcement mechanisms. A major legal clarification defined the “seats parties expected to win” as the “seats that a party had up for re-election.” The court also established that the law in no way violated the constitutional principle of equality before the law, since the constitution guarantees equality of opportunity between men and women regarding access to political office through measures to eradicate discrimination against women. The election courts were required to ensure that all party lists were in compliance with the law; with more party lists complying this time around the election resulted in 22 percent female representation. The Ley de Cupos underwent further reform following the 1999 elections after women’s representation decreased slightly when several parties which expected to win only two or three seats continued to ignore the quota. An executive decree in 2000 resolved this issue by requiring parties to place women at least second on their lists in districts where they expected to win only two seats, or to include at least one woman for every two men all the way down the list when expecting to win more than two seats. Parties found to be in non-compliance with this ranking order had forty-eight hours to revise their lists, after which time a judge would move women candidates to higher positions on the lists. The 2001-4 elections saw full application of the quota, following which women comprised more than 33.5 percent of elected Deputies and 44 percent of the Senate. The percentage of women parliamentarians in Argentina has remained above 30 percent ever since, rising to 40 percent in 2007, and falling slightly in the 2009 elections to 38.5 percent.


Adoption of Gender Quotas in France:

France’s historical context had a unique and significant impact on its quota debates. It is important to recognize the historical link between women’s political representation in France and the French Revolution of 1789 with its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This celebrated document engendered legal reforms that did not recognize women as full citizens and did not extend rights to women. Subsequently, women marched in opposition, presenting a petition to the National Constituent Assembly condemning the male monopoly on political decision-making. Olympe de Gouges, a feminist intellectual and political activist who had devoted much of her life to the revolution on the premise that it supported women’s political inclusion, published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791, in which she challenged the practice of male authority and the notion of male-female inequality. Ultimately, her opposition to the massive number of executions in the name of revolution and her uncompromising fight for equality between men and women cost her her life; in 1793 at the age of 45 she was guillotined for the crime of wanting to be a “statesman” and causing hysteria (Bauer and International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development 1996). Her insights on women’s issues and her conviction that the revolution will only take effect when women are given all their legal and social rights continue to resonate in France today, as French women are still seeking political equality and gender justice.


Despite the fate of Olympe de Gouges, French women continued organizing, publishing works and setting up various organizations, including arts and popular theater groups, advocating for democracy and full citizenship rights for women. French women played a key role in the Revolution and in the creation of the Second French Republic in 1848, which led to further reforms and recognition of public rights. However, even at this stage in France, despite the French motto of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity), women remained without the right to vote (Scott 2005). This impacted the rest of the European states, which were also undergoing revolutionary turmoil; while revolutionary ideas of equality and democracy spread from France, so did the French model of excluding women. The exclusion of women was justified through the notion of the “abstract individual”, in which universalism was emphasized over differences such as gender, class, or ethnicity. At the time of the revolution, this abstract individual was understood to refer to every human with the capacity to reason and make moral judgments, characteristics that male intellectuals insisted belonged only to men. Though the male revolutionary leaders were only too happy to have women’s active participation during the revolution, with the establishment of the Republic they argued that women were not endowed with the powers of logic and reason, and belonged in the domestic sphere. Some male intellectuals, including Rousseau (1762) did not deny women’s intellectual capacity, but claimed that women had “passive” imaginations and thus were not qualified to hold political power (Scott 1996a; Rousseau 1979). Thus, the abstract individual citizen was, by definition, a man. French women rejected their political exclusion and continued to struggle for their political rights. This battle has been one of the longest and hardest fought struggles of women’s movements anywhere. Their demands, which were fully articulated as early as 1791 in de Gouges’ Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, are yet to be realized. Even the right to vote was not achieved until after World War II, in 1944 – nine years after Turkish women obtained this right and some fifty years after women in New Zealand. Even then French women’s right to vote was framed in terms of the recognition of their contribution to the French Resistance against the German occupation and not as a means to addressing and rectifying a political wrong after over one hundred and fifty years (Opello 2006).


Women’s right to vote did not have as profound an effect as might be imagined, due to the deeply entrenched patriarchal political culture and structure of France. The debate on women’s equality surfaced again during the 1960s in the context of the so-called second French Revolution of 1968, which demanded civil rights and equality for all citizens, regardless of gender. This crisis resulted in a general strike which temporarily destabilized the Charles de Gaulle government; it also opened up avenues for the discussion of liberal ideals of equality, sexual liberation and human rights. Nonetheless, despite research and surveys indicating public support for gender balance in political offices, women’s political representation was clearly not supported by the system, never exceeding 6 percent and remaining one of the lowest in Europe. Until the early 1990s, attempts by the women’s movement to address this were stone-walled in one way or another by the male political elite (Scott 2005).


The most common argument against legislation to increase women’s access to political office was that the essence of the Republic was the notion of the individual citizen, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender. This argument held that any legal accommodation to address gender inequality would be too divisive, and would weaken the unity of the French nation. Discouraged in attempts at a legislative solution, women began to pressure individual parties from inside to adopt gender quotas. The women’s committee of the Socialist Party lobbied the party to adopt a voluntary quota system. This resulted in the first ever women’s quota, adopted by the Socialist Party in the 1970s. However, other political parties did not take the issue up, and quotas in the Socialist Party, which ranged from 10 to 30 percent of their candidates, never resulted in significant changes in the proportion of Socialist Party female members elected to office. The failure of the Socialist Party quotas is blamed on weak provisions which were rarely implemented to their fullest extent. Following this experience, quota advocates realized the importance of enforcement mechanisms and legally mandated quotas (rather than voluntary ones), as well as women’s placement in winnable positions to accomplish proper implementation.


The first attempt at legal quotas occurred in 1982, when a modest quota bill, lacking any rank-order rules, was passed by the National Assembly. However, this law was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council on the grounds that any sort of division of candidates into categories, and indeed any bill that recognized and addressed sexual difference, undermined the principle of equality before the law guaranteed by the constitution. This decision, justified once again by the notion of the universal abstract individual, forced quota advocates to try and develop a more fundamental critique of the French principle of equality.


It was within this context that in 1992 French women’s rights activists launched what is referred to as the Parité movement, using the motto liberté, égalité, parité to advance new arguments and strategies, and calling for a fifty-fifty balance between men and women in all elected assemblies (Scott 2005; Lépinard 2007). This call for parity-democracy was aligned with other parity movements in Europe and with the Council of Europe (COE), which in the 1980s called for an increase in women’s political presence. French feminists’ new strategies for increasing women’s representation did not include “gender quotas” for women; they focused instead on the idea of the equal presence of males and females in political office. Feminists advanced their argument by presenting the French notions of equality and the abstract individual as the root cause of women’s underrepresentation, since the original definition of universalism had ignored the female half of humanity. By sexing this abstract individual, in essence broadening and refining the definition to include the recognition that individuals are humans of both sexes, these feminists proposed reforming the constitution to explicitly distinguish the two sexes of the universal citizen (Scott 2005). Thus, while quotas implied special representation rights, parity simply called for the equitable sharing of power between both sexes, i.e. the constituent parts of the citizenry of individuals, as was originally intended by the spirit of French republicanism.


The low levels of female representation in France, in comparison to other European countries at the time, did bring attention to the systematic discrimination keeping women from political office in France. The French women’s movement, well connected to the transnational women’s movement particularly since the 1990s, capitalized on this awareness, keeping the issue in the French public’s eye and enlisting support from many inter-European women’s organizations. Thus, addressing this shortcoming became a matter of saving face for French politicians, particularly for the more successful socialist parties, which were presumed to stand for social justice. After the involvement of a number of political elites, particularly President Jacques Chirac (1995-2007) and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (1997-2002), on June 6th 2000, the French Parity Law was eventually passed, though in a milder form than originally proposed by feminists. “To the disappointment of many parity advocates the law focused on the nomination of female candidates, rather than on the proportion of women elected, and made weak provisions for the elections to the National Assembly.”


Comparing Quota Adoption in France and Argentina:

The quota debates in both France and Argentina emerged from the women’s movements, led by key women’s rights activists and legislators. Their efforts were a response to low levels of female representation that persisted despite democratic change. In both cases women were marginalized from the public sphere in the aftermath of their participation in mass democratic movements and revolutions, as male political elites continued to dominate a discourse framing politics as a male domain. The struggle for political equality has been much more complex in France, as a patriarchal perspective is deeply entrenched in the foundation of the French Revolution and its philosophy of “universalism”. Ironically, while the French revolution has represented a turning point in the equality of citizens and the promotion of democracy and social justice across Europe, French women have had the hardest time of all European women in obtaining equality, particularly in the political domain.


The introduction of gender quotas in both France and Argentina was presented as a practical solution to end women’s exclusion, and in both cases was influenced by the experiences of other nations and supported by conferences and efforts of regional and international organizations. While Argentinean women were able to benefit from quotas for a brief period in the 1950s, French women had no parallel experience, as gender quotas have historically been opposed as contrary to French Republicanism and the ideal of universalism. However, both democracies felt it vital to address women’s underrepresentation, though each took a different approach. The adoption of legislative quotas in France faced a unique obstacle in that France’s constitutional provision of universalism ignored sexual (or any other type of) difference; in contrast, the Argentinean legal framework enabled the passage of measures such as quotas to advance the rights of a specific section of society. Thus, “political equality” had different connotations in each state: in France referring to an abstract ideal that in practice engendered unequal opportunity; in Argentina to a practical measure to support fair if not equal opportunity for women and men.


Ultimately, legislation mandating quotas was adopted in both cases due in large part to the efforts of a variety of actors – local, national and international women’s movements, female legislators, and political elites. French and Argentinean party leaders played important roles in these legislative changes, primarily as a means of gaining popularity at a time when the majority of the populations supported the idea of state action to increase women’s representation. Thus, both Menem of Argentina and Chirac in France were instrumental in the initial passage of a quota bill, though in neither case was the bill the same one originally proposed by the women’s movements. However, as we discuss in the following section, both legal provisions were further reformed through trial-and-error and continuous pressure from women’s groups.


The Implementation of Quotas in Argentina and France

Contrary to expectation, France’s strong legislation supporting gender parity failed to result in any significant increases in the percentage of female parliamentarians, while Argentina’s 30 percent quota ultimately exceeded its goal.


The first Argentinean parliamentary elections after quota adoption, in 1993 increased female representation by almost 8% from 5.8 to 14.4 percent; in France female representation went up only 1.2%, from 11 percent in 1997 to 12.2 percent in 2002. The problem in France seems due primarily to poor implementation of the French Parity Law. Several factors are at play here, one of the most significant being the wording of the Parity Law, which is somewhat weak in terms of implementation; as well, the type of legislative quota adopted does not fit well with the French parliamentary electoral system.


Both of these factors deserve further investigation, as they provide important lessons for activists working to implement gender quotas in other contexts. Among the major obstacles that hindered the successful implementation of the Parity Law is the France’s dual electoral system. Unlike Argentina’s universal List PR electoral system, France uses the Two-Round System (TRS) for its presidential and parliamentary elections, and a List PR System for local elections and a portion of senate seats (Haase-Dubosc 1999). Hence, France uses two types of electoral systems for different elections. For the Senate seats, an electoral college elects some of its members while the rest are filled according to a List PR system. The Parity Law applies to the lists of both local and senate elections, in which parties are required to alternately list male and female candidates, also known as Zipper style. Below, we elaborate on the differences between Parity Law implementation at the local and national levels in France to illustrate how the fit between the electoral system and the Parity Law impacts its execution.


This often means that candidates go through a second round of voting, if none reach the required quota in the first round. In France, the threshold is set at absolute majority – any candidate that receives more than half (50%+1) of the total number of votes in her/his single-member district is directly elected to parliament and no run off is necessary. If this condition is not met in the first round of voting, a run-off election is held among candidates that received at least 12.5 percent of the total casted votes in the first round. In the second round, the candidate that receives the highest votes is then elected to parliament, regardless of whether they receive an absolute majority. Thus, in French parliamentary elections, votes are cast in single-member districts for an individual candidate from candidate lists presented to the electorate by the various parties, which already presents a disadvantage for women.


The Parity Law requires that for parliamentary elections, each party present 50 percent candidates of both sexes overall, but with no conditions regarding which districts female candidates should run for. This lack of specificity has resulted in party lists that typically nominate women for unwinnable districts, so that despite record numbers of female candidates (39 percent of the total candidates nominated by all parties in 2002, still less than the expected 50%), women’s representation in the National Assembly increased only 1.2% from the previous election.


In addition to problems with the wording of the French Parity Law, it also lacked adequate sanctions for non-compliance, particularly for larger and more powerful parties. The law originally stated that parties that do not nominate at least 50 percent female candidates are subject to a negligible financial penalty, whereby the party only loses a small percentage of state funding that it receives. In 2007, after much lobbying and public awareness campaigning, the penalty amount for non-compliance was increased. However, this sanction still lacks real force as the larger parties do not depend on government financial support to the same extent as smaller parties (which more often abide by the parity requirement). Parties in France receive private as well as government funding and though larger parties get larger sums of government money (Jouan 2008), they are often both unwilling to sacrifice male incumbents in single-member districts, and have the financial resources to absorb losses in state funding. Thus, in the 2002 elections the two main rightist parties nominated fewer than 20 percent women, and compliance with gender thresholds varied drastically among parties, with the smaller parties generally respecting the law. Smaller parties did not have many incumbents to unseat, while also hoping to maximize the amount of state subsidy they could claim; the financial penalty proved a deterrent only for the smaller parties.


In the 2007 elections, the percentage of women in parliament rose from 12 to 18 percent for a number of reasons, including high pre-election involvement of women and a high female voter-turnout, which led to greater party interest in and responsiveness to the female constituency. During the campaign women pressured the political parties, mobilized in women’s caucuses, and effectively shamed leftist parties spouting gender equality and social justice rhetoric to live up to their slogans. This resulted in the voluntary commitments of mostly smaller parties to increase the female percentage of their elected members. In particular the smaller Green and PCF (French Communist Party) parties pledged to field 50 percent women candidates, while the large PS (Socialist Party) adopted a target of placing at least 30 percent women in winnable positions (defined as seats the party had won at some point in the last four elections).


To further illustrate the shortcomings of implementing the Parity Law in parliamentary elections, we must compare parliamentary with local and senate elections. While the French two-round parliamentary electoral system faced a number of problems, local and senate elections, which use the List PR electoral system, produced opposite results. Under the Parity Law, for these elections parties are required to produce closed candidate lists with equal numbers of women and men, along with placement restrictions. The placement restrictions require either alternating between men and women on the party list (Zipper style), or nominating in any order three women and three men per group of six candidates. Voters vote for the party list rather than for individual candidates and seats are allocated in proportion to the votes each party receives, starting from the top of the candidate list and moving down. In case of noncompliance the party list is rejected. Strict regulation, in conjunction with the woman-friendly close List PR system, resulted in a 40% increase of women on local councils following the first elections after the passage of the Parity Law in 2000 (French Embassy 2007).


Following the 2010 local elections, women constituted 48 percent of local representatives nationwide. This unquestionably demonstrates how, barring legal and structural impediments, women can and will be elected to office, and proves that the languages of laws, along with sanctions for noncompliance, are crucial to the success of legislative quotas (Lejeune 2010).


In sum, legislative quotas, which carry the weight of law, are becoming more popular in recent decades in part because political elites are becoming, of necessity, more responsive to the demands of women’s movements which have successfully popularized the requirement of gender equality for democratization. Women voters keep reminding politicians that it is time to close the gender gap or be voted out of office. Argentina was among the first countries in the world to adopt a legislative quota, and due to its quick successes became a role model for many other countries. After adopting legislative quotas in November 1991, Argentina achieved critical mass of women (30.7 percent) in parliament only a decade later. In France, however, a series of factors, ranging from a historical legacy of patriarchal universalism, to the national level electoral system and weak legal regulations, made the implementation of its Parity Law at the National Assembly unsuccessful, though at the local level under a different electoral system women’s representation increased significantly. Clearly, legislative quotas, the newest types of quota being used, are still in the trial-and-error phase, and, as illustrated above, must be subject to reform as their shortcomings are realized.



Indonesia adopted legislative gender quotas in 2003. In contrast with Argentina and France, Indonesia’s current political structure is still in the making. The country is undergoing major political and institutional reform to consolidate its democracy, since the protracted political upheaval which led to the resignation of President Suharto in 1998 and ended decades of dictatorship. In fact the first free parliamentary elections in Indonesia only took place in 1999, and its electoral system is still under evaluation and continual reform. Indonesia’s gender quotas have also been subject to ongoing modification as the country’s electoral system has also been changing. Nevertheless, Indonesia offers a good case study for analysis precisely because major institutional shifts provide valuable opportunities for quota advocates, particularly since many countries of the global south are also in the process of further democratization and reformulating state mechanisms. However, to understand the current quota situation in Indonesia, it is first necessary to analyze Indonesia’s historical and political contexts in order to comprehend the trajectory of reform. This section will briefly introduce Indonesia’s history, its political shifts, as well as the role of quota advocates in institutional reforms. Indonesia, with a population of 242 million, is the world’s most populous Muslim country and, similar to most states in the region the nation’s history includes “Islamization”, colonization, periods of authoritarianism, and recent democratization. Among Islamic societies, Indonesia is known for its moderate and liberal Muslim traditions, due in part to the spread of Islam through trade as opposed to occupation or force. Thus many Indonesians voluntarily converted to Islam, mixing and matching it with pre-existing cultural norms and practices. In this sense religion has been an aspect of Indonesian culture rather than a tool for domination by political conquerors. Aside from its liberal culture, another significant feature of modern Indonesia is that the country had a woman president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, from July 2001 to October 2004. Of course, Indonesia is not unique in this; contrary to common Western constructions of Islamic societies women have\ reached the highest political elected offices in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Turkey.


However, despite having elected a female president, overall female political representation in Indonesia and some other Muslim nations has remained low. Currently, the women’s movements, civil society organizations, and the transnational women’s movement are working to address the low levels of female parliamentarians in these states, with varying rates of success. In Indonesia, the women’s movement has lobbied political parties and the state to adopt gender quotas for parliamentary elections since the 1990s. Muslim women’s organizations, as will be discussed below, have also been at the forefront of quota advocacy, contrary to Western notions that Muslim culture is necessarily incompatible with gender equality and female authority. The following section introduces Indonesia’s political structure and electoral system, and examines the process of quota adoption and implementation and the pros and cons of the current gender quota system.


The Historical Context

Indonesia gained full independence from Dutch and Japanese colonial rule in 1949. Although universal suffrage was established in 1945, it was not until 1999, after decades of political turmoil and repressive rule that Indonesia held its first free parliamentary election (Vickers 2005). A major blow to the stability and democratization of post-independence Indonesia was the brutal massacre of some half a million of its population, mostly intellectuals and nationalist elites, trade unionists, feminists and other social activists (Slater 2004). This massacre, which drastically hindered Indonesia’s democratization and institutionalization process, occurred with support from the U.S. and the tacit agreement of other Western powers, who branded the victims as communist enemies of the state.


Of course these events negatively impacted the development of social justice discourse, including women’s representation. The world was thus taken by surprise when, despite the dearth of women in formal politics, Indonesia elected a female president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in 2001. In fact, although Indonesian women have been largely kept out of formal politics, they have always been present in the nation’s political struggles, beginning with the nationalist movements of the 1950s (Parawansa 2005).


In terms of the public sphere, Indonesian women have always had a presence in the politics of their communities, in part due to residual “matriarchal” traditions among many of its ethnic groups which persist despite Indonesia’s conversion to Islam and centuries of colonization. After independence women were given a (limited) role in the public sphere; their presence in state structures such as the judiciary, police corps and other ministries deemed consistent with the modernist perspective of the 1950 constitution. Indonesian women took full advantage of their limited civil positions, pushing for women’s increased public participation. Though their presence in parliament was minimal, Indonesian women mobilized to increase the numbers of potential female politicians. One of the women’s movement’s main strategies during the early days of the republic in the 1950s was to train potential female candidates about the state’s political structure. During Indonesia’s first general elections in 1955, along with grooming female candidates for office, women’s organizations also formed alliances with various political parties, based on parties’ agreements to include women’s demands, such as the reform of marriage law, onto party platforms. However, despite efforts by feminist organizations and a high female voter turn-out, the 1955 elections resulted in only seven percent female parliamentarians. Although this outcome actually compared at the time favorably with many other states that had longer histories of democratic elections, it was disappointing for women activists, especially given that women voters made up more than 60 percent of the electorate.


Explanations for the low percentage of elected women included the placement of female candidates at the bottom of party lists by political parties, combined with the fact that most voters were illiterate at the time and simply selected the party of their choice by choosing the party symbol on the ballot. The conjunction of these two factors made the election of women candidates less likely. Literate voters (the minority) could however vote for individual candidates under Indonesia’s open List PR system. While the issue of women’s political representation remained on the agenda of many women’s rights activists in Indonesia, the women’s movement began to prioritize other concerns, including rights in marriage, education, and inheritance. This was in part because pushing for female representation seemed somewhat pointless under Suharto’s dictatorship,8 and a focus on legal and social change to benefit women and build their social capacities seemed more strategic. During Suharto’s “New Order” era, which lasted from the 1970s to 1998, his party dominated in all general elections, and a seat in parliament could be obtained by making a payment to party leaders or government officials (Sherlock 2009). Women’s representation was determined by the party’s national-level elites, which in turn made their presence in parliament fluctuate throughout Suharto’s rule, peaking at only 13 percent in 1987 (still higher than either France or the U.S. at the time) (Parawansa 2005). Ironically, while women parliamentarians were relatively few and ineffective during Suharto’s dictatorial rule, shortly after his fall in 1998, a woman replaced him and led the country in its transition towards democracy. Megawati Sukarnoputri came to power in July 2001. The daughter of former President Sukarno, who led Indonesia to post-colonial independence, Megawati joined the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle in 1987. She soon became a symbol of popular resistance and thus a major threat to Suharto, who in 1996 used violence to try to remove her as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle; this incident provoked demonstrations in the capital in her support, and transformed Megawati into a national hero. Subsequently, in the country’s first free parliamentary elections in 1999, her party won the most votes. While the election proved that the public supported Megawati and clearly mandated her leadership, the party elite remained unconvinced that a woman should hold presidency; they hesitated to appoint her President, and instead chose Abdurrahman Wahid, with Megawati as Vice President. However, Wahid was dismissed for incompetence and corruption in 2001 and Megawati assumed the Presidency, an unambiguous illustration of the reality that, contrary to the common claim of male political elites, the public is generally more willing to accept women leaders than are male elites themselves.


Megawati led the country towards democratization during the “Reformasi” Era, holding legitimate elections for the first time since Indonesian independence. The emerging democratic environment encouraged the Indonesian women’s movement to turn some attention back to the issue of low female representation. Those activists and politicians that emphasized the gender aspect of democratic discourse advocated for gender parity in politics and argued that though male politicians can certainly support women’s causes, women’s interests cannot be adequately represented without sufficient female policy and decision-makers. Women’s organizations, such as Partai Wanita Rakjat (Women’s People’s Party), framing democracy in terms of equal rights and opportunities in all spheres – political, economic, social and cultural – called for women’s access to parliament and state institutions. Although the Indonesian women’s movement faced many obstacles, including ever changing cabinets and religious and ideological divisions among feminist leaders, they continued to lobby on the basis of the equal citizenship provision of the Indonesian constitution. Addressing the reality that rights in law do not necessarily translate to rights in practice, the women’s movement focused on the implementation of equality laws (Martyn 2004), and began pushing for legally mandated gender quotas.


Adoption of Quotas in Indonesia

The successful adoption of quotas in Indonesia is credited to the country’s ongoing democratic consolidation, which has resulted in a strong civil society dominated by Muslim democrats, the values of democratization and inclusiveness, and a respect for cultural pluralism (Hefner 2000). Within this vibrant civil society context, the Indonesian women’s movement advocated for parliamentary quota adoption, securing the support of many political elites and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) which played important roles in the formation of the new political structure. Having tackled a myriad of gender issues such as polygamy, female education, and family law reform over decades of activity, starting in 1998, the Indonesian women’s movement increasingly prioritized women’s political presence. The increasingly democratic environment enabled open public discussion on issues of citizenship and democracy, and on gender equality, and the women’s movement successfully politicized women’s political presence as a “basic human right” (Mar’iyah 2003). Never-the-less, efforts to increase the percentage of female parliamentarians have encountered many obstacles, particularly a shortage of women wanting to enter politics, and women’s low societal status due to limited access to socio-economic resources that support political aspirations. As a key factor in Indonesian civil society and the democratization process, the Indonesian women’s movement(s) was well prepared for the opportunities that the democratic transition presented. Through collaboration among women’s organizations, intense government lobbying, and the forming of coalitions with political parties and their women’s sections, the women’s movement achieved many of its goals in the early years of the reform era.


For instance, not only did Indonesia sign the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2000, it also began debates on electoral system reform and gender quota adoption. Other key actors in gender quota advocacy included civil society (women’s) organizations, journalists, academics, political parties, and parliamentarians. The women’s organizations included both Muslim and secular organizations. Indonesian quota supporters thus united across religious as well as party lines, though not across gender lines (at least within the political sphere); while almost all women activists and politicians joined forces to promote quotas, only a few male members reluctantly gave their support while the majority were in opposition. The central argument of the quota opponents was meritocratic – that qualifications should always take precedence over sex in candidate selection. It was also argued that there were simply not enough qualified women to run (Bylesjoe and Seda 2006).

The movement for gender quotas strengthened as the General Election Law was being reformulated by the new parliament between 1999 and 2003. There were disagreements among quota supporters, mostly over technical specifications, including over the quota percentage (20 to 30 percent), the timing of quota introduction, and the electoral and list systems. But as the passing of the General Election Law drew closer the women’s movement became more cohesive, ultimately united in its demand for a legislative quota of 30 percent women candidates on political party lists to be introduced for the 2004 election, using open lists under a PR electoral system (Bylesjoe and Seda 2006). Their efforts succeeded when the new General Election Law 12/2003 including Article 65(1) was passed in February 2003, which included a “soft quota” or a non-binding gender quota. This new provision recommended that parties “bear in their hearts” the desirability of nominating at least 30 percent women to their candidate lists in each electoral district at all levels (national, provincial, and district), but had no enforcement provisions (Parawansa 2005). Districts in Indonesia are multi-member, and parties get elected in proportion to the votes that they receive in each district; hence, multiple parties compete for seats in each electoral district. Thus the parties were recommended (and later required) to nominate at least 30 percent female candidates in each district, rather than their overall nomination of female candidates across all districts.


The Shift from Closed to Open List Electoral System: Other important reforms adopted for the 2004 general elections – Indonesia’s second legislative elections since the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian regime – included changes to the state’s election laws. These included a key move from a closed list system to an open list system, allowing voters to select a preferred candidate, but only in conjunction with a vote for the party (their vote was invalid if they only chose a candidate). In other words, voters first voted for their party of choice and then, and if they wished, one candidate from that party (Sherlock and Fealy 2009). The change from a closed to an open list system came about due to widespread criticism of the closed list system used in the 1999 election, where party leaders determined which candidates received seats in parliament (according to the placement of candidates on party lists). In a closed list system, elected MPs tend to prioritize allegiance to their party over their constituencies, as the party leadership played a key role in helping them be elected. The women’s movement welcomed the change to an open list system, which improved female candidates’ chances for election, regardless of where they were placed on the list. However, activists were not hopeful that open lists would sufficiently address women’s underrepresentation, given the high level of illiteracy among the electorate and the complex nature of the provision. The 2003 electoral laws also created a National Election Commission (KPU), responsible for organizing and monitoring elections and ensuring abidance by the new provisions (Sherlock and Fealy 2009). Article 65(1) was Indonesia’s first attempt at a gender quota. Although the quota provision was weak, it was nonetheless considered a great accomplishment by the women’s movement, and proof that the movement’s hard work, extended networking and collaboration with different groups had paid off. It also provided hope that continuing efforts would ultimately result in a stronger, viable legislative quota (Bylesjoe and Seda 2006). Indeed this proved true; in 2008 Indonesia adopted a legislative gender quota, though it did not go unchallenged, as discussed in the next section.


Implementation of Quotas in Indonesia: From a Soft to the Real Quota: After the passage of law 12/2003, nation-wide capacity building and training programs were launched by major civil society organizations (CSOs) working in co-operation with a number of political parties. Much effort was made to produce qualified female candidates for the 2004 elections. To cover as much of the country as possible in the one year remaining before elections, organizations coordinated their activities according to theme and geography. Workshops were organized on a massive scale to train potential female candidates, educate the populace about the Indonesian political/electoral system, prepare women to perform as elected MPs, and to educate the public on the importance of quotas and female representation. The organizations involved also started working with international organizations, further enhancing the resources and strategies of the movement. Simultaneous to the mass education and trainings, the women’s movement politicized the parties’ responsibility to nominate women and continuously lobbied the parties to implement the quota (Bylesjoe and Seda 2006).


However, the first general elections following the adoption of the 2003 soft-quota did not see a major increase in the percentage of female MPs. The 2004 election resulted in only 11 percent female legislators in the House of Representatives (DPR), up slightly from 8.2 percent in the 1999 elections. Examining the implementation of the 2003 voluntary gender quota reveals a number of interesting factors. To most observers’ astonishment, a majority of the political parties did nominate at least 30 percent female candidates in the 2004 elections, though not in every district list as the provision had recommended. Of 7,756 total candidates competing for 550 seats in the House of Representatives, 32.3 percent were female. Of 24 parties competing in 69 districts in an open list electoral system, only 8 did not fulfill the voluntary 30% quota for female candidates, and even these came close. Yet despite the overwhelming compliance with the quota and the massive training and education program spearheaded by the women’s movement, the 2003 quota failed for three main reasons.


First, since the quota did not impose any ranking requirements, female candidates were generally positioned towards the bottom of the lists. Despite the fact that party lists were now “open” and voters could select any candidate, this still worked against women candidates, given the illiteracy of the electorate. Only 9.7 percent of all party lists ranked women in the first position and 16.8 percent ranked them second. (It is argued that parties merely nominated women to appeal to women voters rather than to sincerely increase women’s representation). Secondly, the low ranking of women by the two largest parties, which received the most votes, particularly impacted the situation. The Golkar party, which won 43 percent of the seats in parliament, placed women either first or second on its lists in only 20.1 percent of districts. Third, since the quota was only a recommendation, it lacked sanctions for non-compliance; at the same time its wording was unclear and hence misinterpreted by a majority of the parties. Although the provision recommended 30% female candidates on all party lists for each district, for the most part parties interpreted it to mean nominating 30% female candidates in total, across all districts, and this further weakened the impact of the quota (Bylesjoe and Seda 2006).


The failure of the 2004 elections to produce a satisfactory percentage of female representatives spurred the women’s movement to demand a stronger gender quota with a binding rank order provision. In preparation for the 2009 elections, a coalition of women’s activists and politicians lobbied for further legal provisions for party nominations, as parties are often the main gatekeepers barring women from political access. Thus, the coalition demanded a legislative quota based on the principles of democracy and equality contained in the original 1945 Indonesian constitution.


In 2008, parliament adopted Law 10/2008 requiring all political parties to nominate 30 percent women candidates on all party lists. To further strengthen the implementation of the quota, Article 55 of Law 10/2008 included a rank order rule, the so-called Zipper system (in practice Semi- Zipper), whereby parties were required to include at least one woman among every three candidates throughout the party list (Suryakusuma 2009). Additionally, Article 214 10/2008 allowed for semi-closed candidate lists, to assist with the implementation of the Semi-Zipper system and to guarantee the election of one-third female representatives (International IDEA and Stockholm University 2010). The law did this by addressing how votes should be translated into seats, stating that “the allocation of legislative seats for a political party is based on the number of votes won in electoral districts, with the priority given to candidates who win 30 percent of the minimum votes required to secure a legislative seat” (Article 214 10/2008). According to this Article, party lists are both open and closed: open in the sense that voters select individual candidates as well as the party, with candidates who meet the 30%+ quota directly elected into parliament, and closed in the sense that the remaining seats won by each party are allocated according to ranking of candidates on party lists, where every third candidate is female. Law 10/2008, which transformed a voluntary recommendation into the first real legislative quota with a rank order rule, was considered a great victory by the women’s movement. However, the lack of sanctions for non-compliance did compromise its implementation; the National Election Commission was simply required to publish informing the public of the percentage of women nominated on each party list, and the KPU published no information concerning parties’ compliance with the ranking rule (Sherlock 2009).


The Constitutional Court Challenges: Unfortunately the victory was shortlived; in December of 2008, only a few months after the quota law passed, the Constitutional Court declared Article 214 of Law No. 10/2008 allocating remaining seats according to party ranking, unconstitutional in response to a petition filed by two male candidates and four political parties opposed to the gender quota. The petition argued that any seat allocation by a party rather than by the electorate was unconstitutional and undemocratic (Suryakusuma 2009), and that “instead of a candidate’s position on the list (which, in most cases, is the result of intra-party political bargaining), the actual number of votes should be the single determinant on who the representatives of the people should be (Ardani and Kanadi 2009).” Similar to France, male politicians objected to a provision of the electoral system that had raised no opposition until the introduction of the gender quota. Male members of the Indonesian political elite who had little objection to the party list prior to the gender quota suddenly declared the closed list undemocratic. The court’s ruling abolished the candidate ranking rule, rendering the Semi-Zipper style listing a female as every third candidate ineffective, since seats were now all allocated according the number of votes a candidate received. The ruling to annul Article 214 was actually applauded by many observers both within and outside the country as a significant step towards further democratization of Indonesia electoral politics; the direct election of representatives by voters is understood to increase parliamentarians’ accountability to constituents, a matter of widespread concern in Indonesian politics. The ruling meant increased competition among candidates within a party and encouraged them to campaign on their own behalf, rather than depending on the party and its platform. However, the Indonesian women’s movement considered the ruling undemocratic as it removed a law which sought to create a level playing field in politics for Indonesian women, who saw their opportunities to serve as MPs diminished (Ardani and Kanadi 2009). Of the nine Constitutional Court judges, the sole female, Judge Maria Farida Indrati, dissented, arguing that women’s equality is a constitutional right and reiterating the importance of a parliamentary gender quota to help achieve this constitutional requirement in the political arena (Suryakusuma 2009). In her dissenting statement, Judge Indrati pointed to a very important contradiction in the Court’s decision. The petitioners had questioned the constitutionality of both Articles 55 (which said that one in three candidates should be women) and 214 (which allowed partial seat allocation according to party rankings). The petitioners argued that the 30% quota undermined the electorate’s freedom of choice by privileging women to the disadvantage of potentially more qualified male candidates. While the court declared the affirmative action measures codified in Article 55 were in accordance with the 1945 Constitution (which advocated gender equality), as well as with Indonesia’s commitment to assist women in the political process as party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and CEDAW, it ruled that Article 214 was unconstitutional, undermining individual sovereignty, universal equal rights, and freedom of expression and association (Sri Adhiati 2009). According to Judge Indrati, her colleagues were gravely misguided in keeping one provision while striking the other, since the affirmative action measure of Law 10/2008 is only effective with both provisions (Suryakusuma 2009).


The Result of the 2009 Parliamentary Elections: Indonesia’s path towards democracy has included several significant and sometimes controversial modifications and revisions to the electoral system, particularly with regards to the rules adopted for the 2009 elections. The result is a complex system that has caused much confusion among the electorate. This, in conjunction with high illiteracy and the partial reversal of the quota provision, negatively impacted the election of female candidates on April 9th 2009. Indonesia’s electoral system is considered by political scientists to be among the most complex in the world; the fine points are still in the process of being hammered out, through the courts and through reforms advocated by activists and politicians. For the 2009 elections significant changes included: raising the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 560; increasing the number of parties competing from 24 to 38 (and establishing a minimum threshold of 2.5% of the national vote for a party to win a seat); and increasing the number of electoral districts to 77 from 69 (thus shrinking the district magnitude).


These reforms resulted in a more competitive parliamentary race mostly because the rise in the number of districts and the simultaneous shrinkage of each district size meant that each party needed a higher amount of votes to win seats in a district. In other words, due to the Constitutional Court ruling that parties cannot rank women on their lists, only known parties and candidates have a good chance of receiving votes, while women who rarely have sufficient funds to campaign on behalf of themselves are greatly disadvantaged. Additionally, increasing the number of parties from 24 to 38 and allowing parties with as little as 2.5% threshold of votes to win a seat, drastically amplifies party competition, as none are willing to “risk” women’s nominations. Trying to safeguard and increase votes, many parties nominated well-known, high-profile politicians or celebrities, making it almost impossible for little-known female candidates to compete. The number of celebrities (performing artists, athletes, relatives of high-profile politicians, and the like) on party lists quadrupled for the 2009 elections; though most of the celebrity candidates were politically inexperienced they drew many votes (Soeriaatmadja 2009). This phenomenon actually did support the election of some female representatives in 2009, a few of whom actually won seats from male incumbents (Adjusuf 2009). For instance, Ratu Hemas, a sultan’s wife, won in the district where her husband is governor. Although this is not unlike some developments in the United States, usage of celebrity candidates has made Indonesia’s political scene even more complex and raises new issues for the women’s movement. Similar to the 2004 elections, 30 percent of candidates in 2009 were women. In all, 18% of the seats in the legislature were won by women, increasing from 11.3% in 2004. As in the previous elections, most parties disregarded the requirement of 30% female candidates per list in each district, and simply nominated 30 percent women candidates in total across the nation. Thus, it is possible that women candidates were placed on lists in districts their parties considered unwinnable, therefore rendering the quota ineffective. The lack of real sanctions for non-compliance with the 30% quota also weakened the provision, and in fact the National Election Commission (KPU) chose not to publish the lists highlighting which parties had not complied, deciding that the law was too vague on this matter (Sherlock 2009).


Overall, Indonesia’s legislative quota has positive and negative aspects. The implementation of the quota has not increased the percentage of female parliamentarians to the extent that was expected (an increase from 11.3% in 2004 to only 18% in 2009). The success of gender quotas is a function of three primary factors: how well the quota provision fits with existing institutional frameworks, such as electoral systems; the precision, clarity and detail of the quota provision; and lastly, whether key actors and political elites are supportive of or oppositional to the gender quota (Matland 2006). In the Indonesian case, the quotas legislated in Election Laws 10/2008 were originally designed to fit the state’s electoral system. Having learned from previous mistakes that parties tend to nominate women in unwinnable positions/ districts, quota advocates lobbied for and won a Semi-Zipper style ranking rule to ensure that at least 1/3 of the 30% women candidates in all districts were in relatively winnable positions. This provision fit the List PR electoral system, however, it required support from at least a partially closed list, which quota advocates recommended. This was a highly sensitive issue due to a history of corruption concerning candidate rankings (for instance, individuals buying positions on the list from party leaders).


However, when the Constitutional Court declared it illegal for political parties to have any candidate ranking power (as in ranking women in every third position on the lists), it weakened the potential of increasing the number of female parliamentarians. Hence, the new ruling undermined the intent of the wording of the Semi-Zipper style ranking rule; despite the listing of a woman every third candidate, seat allocation had no relation to list ranking. In addition to this huge shortcoming, the wording of the original quota lacked the degree of detail necessary to avoid misinterpretation. Not only were sanctions for non-compliance weak to non-existent, the requirement that the quota apply to every list in every district was overlooked or misinterpreted by most parties and the National Election Commission (KPU), which instead applied the provision to the total number of candidates per party across the nation. Lastly, most political parties had little commitment to, or support for the implementation of the quota, and neither did the majority of the judges of the Constitutional Court, the political elites, and institutions such as the National Election Commission (KPU). This increased the burden on the women’s movement/quota advocates, who had to simultaneously train potential candidates, fight court battles and try to elicit support from both voters and political elites. The situation illustrates the extent of patriarchal domination in Indonesian politics.

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