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Jakarta Post

Could nonvoters turn the election?

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 23, 2019   /   08:30 pm
Could nonvoters turn the election? President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (left) and his running mate in the upcoming presidential election, Ma’ruf Amin (second left), face their rivals, Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto (second right) and businessman Sandiaga Uno, in an election debate held at the Bidakara Hotel in South Jakarta on Jan. 17. The first in a series of debates focused on law, human rights, corruption and terrorism. (The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan)

As voters and activists vent their increasing disillusionment with both presidential tickets, the question is whether abstention could become a key factor in the 2019 elections.

Voter turnout in Indonesia has traditionally been high, consistently exceeding 70 percent for national elections since the end of the Soeharto regime.

However, the abstention rate has shown an increasing trend since the 1999 general elections, and disillusioned voters have recently taken to social media to voice their intention to abstain from voting on April 17 because of their disappointment with both presidential tickets, particularly with their stances on human rights.


In 2014, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo campaigned on a platform of, among other things, solving past cases of human rights abuse, but activists and experts have criticized the incumbent for a lack of progress on uncovering atrocities committed in the country’s past.

Meanwhile, ever since the 2014 election, Prabowo Subianto’s candidacy has raised deep concerns among human rights activists over the candidate’s alleged involvement in the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998.

Former supporters of Jokowi, in particular, have expressed their discontent with the incumbent, especially after the announcement of cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate last August.

As head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Ma’ruf had supported several controversial regulations, including the Pornography Law and the joint ministerial decree banning the activities of minority group Ahmadiyah, saying in 2013 that such regulations were “very much expected”.

Ma’ruf was also a key expert witness in the highly publicized blasphemy trial that sent former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama to prison, and he had signed a fatwa declaring that Ahok’s statement about a Quranic verse was insulting to Islam.

More recently, Jokowi-Ma’ruf’s perceived lackluster performance in the first presidential debate last week and the mooted release of convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Ba’asyir have strengthened the sentiment of abstention.

On Wednesday, a coalition of civil society groups rallied for boycotting the election, reiterating that abstention was a political right protected under the Constitution.

“Abstention is part of citizens’ right to vote,” Alghiffari Aqsa from the Jakarta Legal Aid Society (LBH Jakarta) said. “Because voting is a right, one can choose to either exercise it or not. Forcing someone to vote actually violates their human rights.”

The popularity of fictional presidential ticket Nurhadi-Aldo, known for their campaign slogan “Dildo for Indonesia”, has also been attributed to the public’s general dissatisfaction with both Jokowi and Prabowo.

Lini Zurlia, an LGBT activist who had volunteered for Jokowi’s 2014 presidential campaign, said she was “becoming more and more convinced” that abstaining was the best option, referencing Nurhadi-Dildo’s hashtag #SmackQueenYaQueen.

“Many of the political promises Jokowi made in 2014 have not been fulfilled,” she said at the press conference. “He has instead become a supporter and defender of human rights violators.”

Elisa Sutanudjaja, an analyst with city planning watchdog the Rujak Center, who had “reluctantly” voted for Jokowi in 2014, said she too was determined to abstain in the upcoming election.

“I no longer believe in choosing ‘the lesser of two evils’,” she said. “I don’t want to vote for any evil.”

The abstention campaign has, however, prompted a backlash from supporters of both presidential camps on social media, who have decried its supporters as “cowards” and “fools”, even insinuating that advocating against voting was a criminal act.

Jokowi campaign spokesman Raja Juli Antoni declined to comment, saying he wanted to “closely examine” the activists’ statements first.

Association for Elections and Democracy executive director Titi Anggraeni said an increase in the abstention rate was likely, given voters’ “weariness over the limited options available.”

In spite of calls to stay away on voting day, however, the director of Jakarta-based pollster Populi Center, Usep S. Ahyar, said the effect of “deliberate” abstentions would be limited.

“If we look at the last presidential election, voter turnout was 70 percent, meaning that, technically, 30 percent of voters were abstaining, but fewer than 5 percent of those voters had decided to abstain as a political statement.”

A recent poll conducted by Indikator Politik Indonesia found that only 1.1 percent of 1,200 respondents had purposefully decided not to vote for either candidate pair. (ipa)