The current local elections have been marred with power abuse by incumbent candidates, money politics, negative campaigns and “cheap tricks”, which are against the spirit of democracy, Wirdyaningsih, chief of the legal and electoral violation reports division at the General Elections Monitoring Body (Bawaslu), says in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post’s Dicky Christanto. Below is the excerpt.
Wirdyaningsih: JP/P.J. Leo
Question: What do you think is the best way to minimize cases of electoral offenses?
Answer: I strongly encourage the House of Representatives to make a law that mandates stricter sanctions to whoever violates the electoral rules. This proposed law should also require the government to build a special mechanism to deal with electoral offences to create a better deterrent effect.
The mechanism comprises independent investigators, prosecutors and trials that are especially tailored for this purpose. It’s like when the government established the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which is provided with the extraordinary Corruption Court to make it effective.
Why should we establish new institutions and a mechanism to deal with electoral violations instead of using existing ones?
The idea is to make everyone aware that electoral offenses are an extraordinary crime, and also make them realize that all the existing institutions and mechanisms are ineffective. The sooner we realize that letting election offenses go unpunished can jeopardize the country’s unity or even its existence, the better. This year alone, Indonesia is to see 244 local elections.
What has the public response been to your idea?
We have communicated this idea with lawmakers from the House of Representatives’ commission II overseeing home affairs, and so far we have received a positive response. I think the lawmakers are beginning to realize that something really serious has to be done here to improve the quality of our democracy. I just hope they will raise this issue in a formal forum in the near future.
What will become of Bawaslu if this idea is materialized?
Bawaslu will retain its function as an election watchdog, but this time with more solid backing.
Are you proposing the idea because Bawaslu has failed to accomplish its mission?
We have been trying our best to monitor the general election processes throughout the archipelago and have sometimes found that they are successful. But I must acknowledge that we face difficulties, mainly because we lack the authority to take action, we lack personnel and budget.
I am also well aware that the laws prevent us from taking action whenever we find violations in the field, but at the same time we often feel that law enforcers don’t share the same concern (regarding rife violations). That explains why law enforcers do not follow up on our reports let alone heeding our recommendations.
Could you provide examples?
When monitoring Bengkulu local elections recently, we found ample evidence that the incumbent governor candidate (Agusrin M. Najamuddin) gives out free gas stoves and hand-tractors in his bid to win people’s sympathy.
We also have reports supported by images, that people receive cash during his campaigns. But when we submitted these findings to law enforcers, I had the impression they did not take them seriously. Unfortunately, in this situation, the law doesn’t permit us to conduct further investigations for more convincing evidence.