The Jakarta Post
In only a few days the country will vote on its future leaders. Sadly, the campaigns we have seen thus far have not ignited much voting enthusiasm.
Society's dissatisfaction with the current batch of legislators and resentment of the widespread corruption among the political elite will become ever more evident in the legislative, and later presidential, election: It is easy to predict that the number of abstainers or golput will be significant.
The number of individuals choosing not to vote has risen consistently from one election to another in the post-reformasi era. Based on General Elections Commission (KPU) data, in the 1999 election about 10.4 percent of eligible voters did not vote. In 2004 the figure rose dramatically to 23.3 percent in the legislative election and 22.4 percent in the presidential election. In 2009, the last elections, the number of non-voters increased further to 29.01 percent for the legislative election and 27.8 percent for the presidential election. In fact, in 2004 and 2009, non-voters outnumbered the amount of votes garnered by both the winning political parties and presidential candidates.
Abstainers usually refuse to vote, but in some countries, it is manifested by dropping blank or spoiled ballots in the poll boxes as a form of protest or dissatisfaction. This behavior is common in the countries where voting is compulsory, such as Australia, Belgium and Brazil.
Non-voting behavior was also common in the New Order and post-reformasi era. Under the Soeharto regime, non-voting was a protest against the ruling power. The floating mass policy limited people's affiliation to political parties. Also, the implementation of state corporatism, a system to restrain political and mass organizations by limiting specific groups to only one state-sanctioned organization, generated political apathy among citizens.
Public apathy was worsened by the predictable and unchanging winner ' Soeharto. In short, non-voting in the New Order was both a reflection of distrust and a form of protest against the political system. As such, non-voting should not simply be regarded as political apathy, social sickness or just labeled 'irresponsible'.
The number of non-voters in the first free election in 1999 was not much different from the elections under the New Order era, around 10 percent. But expectation for political and economic change was an influencing factor upon participation. After that, the number of non-voters raised dramatically to more than double in the 2004 elections, to 23.2 percent and almost triple in the 2009 elections.
Many believe that the dramatic rise of nonvoters in the 2004 and 2009 elections was a logical consequence of the bad performance of local legislative councilors and House of Representative members, rampant corruption among legislative members and political elites and a lack of capacity. Under the administration of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, most lawmakers sided with the government, not the people. Public disappointment with the performance of both the executive and legislative institutions was a major influencing factor on the high rate of non-voting.
In 2009, despite critical attitudes of the political situation, non-voting was also a result of problems in electoral management. The data of about 10 to 12 million voters was 'problematic', leading to reports of millions being disenfranchised, although only around 79,000 cases of registered voters were filed in 11 provinces.
The phenomenon of golput as a winner in the elections will likely happen again in the upcoming elections. Law enforcement has failed to eliminate corruption epidemic to the legislative bodies and political elites, increasing distrust in government and judicial bodies. The condition has intensified apathy, not to mention the technical problems in the voter registration list. All this undermines efforts to encourage people to vote. Although golput can be considered a punishment to politicians, non-voting is not meaningful for change.
However, rather than criminalizing golput, non-voting behavior should be used as a mirror for politicians and political parties to improve their performance, rebuild their integrity and uphold zero tolerance to corruption. The presence of both critical citizens and committed politicians are essential in building meaningful democracy in Indonesia.
The writer is a researcher with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Jakarta.
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