Months out from the legislative and presidential elections, Indonesian voters are facing a glut of surveys assessing the popularity of potential presidential contenders. Amid this beauty contest, there have been few attempts to examine voter knowledge, attitudes and practices.
A recent survey of 2,760 eligible voters, conducted by the Polling Center, with support from The Asia Foundation, revealed broad support for elections, but substantial and worrying gaps in voter information. The survey also confirmed that the buying ' and selling ' of votes is widespread, and there are significant challenges in addressing the problem.
Respondents to the survey, which was conducted in Aceh, East Java, East Kalimantan, East Nusa Tenggara, Jakarta and South Sulawesi, strongly considered all levels of direct elections ' for president, governor, House of Representatives ( DPR ), regional legislative councils ( DPRDs ) and the Regional Representatives Council ( DPD ) ' important. This suggests current legislative debate on the elimination of direct elections for governors, district heads or mayors is likely to find little public support.
A significant majority of respondents remained interested in voting in 2014, although 12 percent of respondents said they would not vote if they did not like any of the candidates.
Respondents expressed a high level of interest in and awareness of the upcoming presidential elections, in particular. Among the approaching elections, there was the least amount of awareness of, and interest in, the elections for the Regional Representatives Council ( DPD ). Some 20 percent of respondents had not heard of the DPD. However, given that the DPD ballot is handed to voters at the same time as the DPR and DPRD ballots, it is unlikely that this lack of awareness of and interest in the DPD will affect voter turnout.
The survey confirmed the declining relevance of political parties to Indonesian voters. Respondents most wanted information about the presidential candidates and the legislative candidates, with very few expressing interest in political party information. Political party endorsement of candidates was not a significant factor in determining how respondents decide to vote. Further, from a list of seven choices, parties and candidates ranked as the least trusted sources of election information.
Disappointingly, there remains a strong degree of discrimination in voter candidate preferences. A plurality of respondents ( 44 percent ) expressed a preference for male candidates, compared to 48 percent who considered that there was no difference between male and female candidates. Only 3 percent preferred female candidates.
The potential for disenfranchisement of millions of people still exists. Rather than being driven by the voter list, which appears on track to be far more accurate than in 2009, the survey suggests a lack of understanding of the process for voting is the biggest threat to enfranchisement.
For example, more than a quarter of all respondents ( 27 percent ) did not know that they could vote with valid identification even if their names were not on the final voter list, and 18 percent did not know where to check this list. Nine percent of respondents believed that they could not vote if they did not receive the election invitation letter ' even if their names were on the voters list ( the invitation letter is a reminder and not a requirement for voting ). Further, over 29 percent of respondents thought that 'ticking' the ballot was valid ( it is not ).
Although voters expressed support for elections, a majority had reservations about the overall integrity of the process. Nearly half of those surveyed ( 48 percent ) were not sure if upcoming elections would be free and fair, while 9 percent believed they would not.
Only 38 percent of respondents believed that elections would be free and fair. In spite of this degree of distrust, a significant majority believed that the final results reflect the actual vote and that the vote is secret, suggesting that the general public's concerns lie more with vote buying and other campaign violations ' actions to which they are directly exposed ' than fraudulent manipulation of the count.
Vote-buying is widespread'over one-third of all respondents ( 34 percent ) admitted having experienced vote buying ' and widely accepted. There are significant challenges in combating this problem. Presented with the prospect of receiving money and/or gifts from candidates in return for their vote ( and in the absence of intimidation ), 38 percent of respondents would accept the money and/or gifts. An additional 14 percent might accept these, depending on what was offered.
Further, there remains a lack of understanding about the legality of buying and selling votes. Only 65 percent of respondents knew that vote buying is illegal. Few respondents ( only 10 percent ) claimed that they would report an incident of vote buying. Finally, over a quarter ( 28 percent ) of respondents had not heard of the Election Supervisory Committee ( Bawaslu ) ' the institution to which complaints about vote-buying should be made.
One answer to the challenges of voter education is to innovate in the provision of election information. Mobile and internet penetration is high, presenting opportunities for engaging voters ' and first-time voters, in particular. The study showed 18 percent of all respondents had used social media at least once in the week before the survey.
Young respondents were particularly active on Facebook and Google. Of broader relevance, 80 percent of respondents own or have access to a cellphone, and a significant number of respondents ( 38 percent ) expressed interest in receiving non-partisan voter information via text message.
The writer is a program director for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia.