The Jakarta Post
Only when the Central Java Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) declared Governor Ganjar Pranowo and the 34 mayors and regents under his purview guilty of violating the 2014 Regional Administration Law, after they displayed support for incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, did we realize that the regulations do not strictly set a red line between the political preference and constitutional responsibilities of public officials.
As individuals, regional heads have their political rights, hence their preference of presidential candidate, protected by the Constitution. But once they declare their political choice, many would fear their partiality would adversely affect the delivery of public services; people who do not share the preference of the regional head would risk discrimination. During a political year, when tensions are running so high that it could prompt people to end friendships because of different political choices, such a scenario is quite possible.
Considering their key role in state affairs and national unity, Reform-Era administrations have strictly required that the bureaucracy, judiciary, Indonesian Military and National Police stay away from practical politics. The Constitution even deprives people in the last two institutions of their right to vote to ensure their neutrality stays intact.
Regional heads are, however, politicians. Normally they have the responsibility to toe the line of the political parties that nominate them, although occasionally they break away from their party’s policies for strategic or pragmatic interests. Everything is possible as long as they are political animals.
Nothing was extraordinary, therefore, when a number of regional heads — governors, mayors and regents — declared their support for either Jokowi or his contender Prabowo Subianto. Some of them have even joined the campaign teams, which requires them to devote time and energy to help their presidential candidate win the election.
Although allowing public officials like Cabinet ministers and regional heads to join the campaign team of a certain presidential candidate, the 2017 Elections Law requires them to take leave when they are on the campaign trail. They can only dedicate one day a week for the political duty so as not to sacrifice their state job.
Specifically, the 2014 Regional Administration Law necessitates that regional heads put public interests ahead of their own or group interests, including political preferences. This only means that as leaders, their political choice must not change their loyalty to the people.
The decision of the Central Java poll watchdog to file a report with the home minister against Ganjar and other regional heads for their ethical violation is just and proper, regardless of the governor’s denial that the gathering was a form of campaigning.
The challenge for Bawaslu now is to keep an eye on all public officials who have declared their political preference ahead of the April election to prevent them from abusing their authority for the benefit of their candidate.
Bawaslu’s stern measures in Central Java sets a good precedent and gives us hope for an election that runs in a fair manner and free from any abuse of power.