Democracy, local elections and decentralization form a big break from Suharto's authoritarian New Order regime (1966-1998) when key political positions on the central and regional level were mostly given to pro-Suharto forces, while Suharto's political vehicle Golkar and the army were present throughout society to control the masses. As such, a small elite was in control of power.

The new political system of Indonesia, however, opens up new opportunities. Due to local and central elections, a man not originating from the traditional oligarchic Indonesian elite can manage to rise to power. Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo is the best example. Coming from a humble background in Central Java, he managed to become mayor of Solo, Governor of Jakarta and the country's seventh president due to popular support during local and presidential elections.

This development is a thorn in the eyes of the traditional oligarchic elite. Prabowo Subianto, former army general during the New Order regime, former son-in-law to Suharto, and Widodo's opponent in the 2014 presidential election, managed to pass a bill in parliament in September 2014 - supported by his Merah-Putih coalition (which controlled the majority of seats in parliament) - that abolished local elections. Many regard this move as an act of revenge for losing the presidential election to Widodo. However, this law was later cancelled due to public outcry. Then acting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also immediately issued a presidential decree to override parliament's approval of the controversial bill.

However, with decentralization of power, corruption spread accordingly to the regions as local leaders felt less threatened by possible reprimands from the (weaker) center. Competition for local political powerful positions increased as local leaders obtain access to generous government funds (about a third of the central government's budget spending is transferred to the regions) and have the authority to hand out permits for land use (this is particularly valuable in resource-rich islands such as Sumatra and Kalimantan).

Recently, a report was released that claims there exists a relation between the recent forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan (causing the toxic haze across Southeast Asia) and local elections as local candidates (being businessmen or cooperating with businessmen) hand out land to local residents in exchange for support in the elections. This land is then used for plantations (after slash-and-burn practices).

Year Transfer to Regions
     (in trillion IDR)
2010             344.7
2011             411.3
2012             480.6
2013             513.3
2014             573.8
2015             643.8
2016             723.2

Corruption and unprofessionalism at local governments block faster economic development of Indonesia. The central government transfers an ever-increasing amount of funds to the regions. Over the past six years, central government funds transferred to the regions have more than doubled.

Local governments in Indonesia should play a bigger role in the eradication of poverty, unemployment and inequality in Indonesian society, hence boosting economic growth, by using the village funds for productive projects that have a multiplier effect, such as infrastructure development. However, currently a big chunk of the funds received from the central government are invested in state and central bank bonds or are placed on deposit accounts, not for much-needed structural investment in the region.

By investing the village funds productively and/or creatively, new revenue sources can be developed on the village level. This would not only reduce the local unemployment and poverty rates but would also make these villages less dependent on the central government for fund disbursements. However, by not using the village funds appropriately, villages (in Indonesian: desa) are not conducting good governance and fiscal sanctions from the central government are not enough to enhance good governance at the village level.

Indonesian media reported that regional elections had to be postponed in several districts and one city due to ongoing legal disputes: Central Kalimantan, Manado (North Sulawesi), Fakfak (West Papua), Pematang Siantar (North Sumatra) and Simalungun (North Sumatra).

In other areas voting is possible between 7 am and 1 pm on Wednesday 9 December 2015. Results are scheduled to be released on 18 December.