The Jakarta Post
Stretching over a span of nearly 600 days, the United States’ presidential race is among the world’s longest political campaigns. But with risks of a sectarian divide or political polarization that can take long to heal, a lengthy campaign session may not bode well for our young democracy.
Fresh from the third and largest round of simultaneous regional elections less than two months ago, Indonesia is gearing up for a far bigger political campaign in every aspect. According to the General Elections Commission’s (KPU) schedule, the campaign period for the simultaneous legislative and presidential elections will start on Sept. 23 and end April 13, 2019.
For about 200 days, candidates contesting legislative and presidential seats and their campaigners will deluge the public space with their sweet promises to win the hearts and minds of more than 196 million voters. We can only imagine the exhausting glut of election coverage that will deluge print, electronic and social media.
Of course, the candidates will benefit from the extensive period as they will have ample time to convince voters to choose them on balloting day, April 19, 2019. For them, especially newcomers or less popular candidates, the longer the electoral campaign, the better.
But financing the protracted campaign also poses a daunting challenge for candidates, with many resorting to illicit sources like bribes or misusing the state budget, as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has unraveled.
For the electorate, too, a period of six or seven months should be enough to track the candidates’ past records and learn their pluses and minuses before entering the polling booth. Even if they wish to trust political parties rather than individual candidates, the campaign period will provide many opportunities to get to know the parties better.
Many things can happen within 200 days, but the largely peaceful regional elections earlier this year bring optimism that the upcoming legislative and presidential elections will be free from severe conflicts between supporters of rival candidates.
It’s heartening to see the two tickets registering with the KPU for the presidential race sending a clear message that they want a peaceful competition. Hopefully the campaign session will indeed be a battle of ideas, rather than an arena to spread hatred and lies. True, a smear campaign is the easiest and cheapest way to beat a rival, but the impacts will be too costly to bear.
The police have so far acted firmly against hate speech, libel and hoaxes, thanks to supporting laws. There is no reason for them, with or without reports from the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), to delay enforcement of the law against all forms of fake news targeting certain candidates.
Another risk we will face concerns the government’s effectiveness, as the incumbent, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and some of his ministers, will join the contest. The Elections Law requires them to take leave to prevent abuse of state facilities.
It is unlikely that the KPU will amend its schedule, but the upcoming elections should at least serve as a lesson to improve the management of free and fair elections.