The Jakarta Post
The government's plan to reschedule polling day for this year's simultaneous regional elections to December has sparked concerns over the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of incumbent candidates using their coronavirus response to their own advantage.
Home Minister Tito Karnavian and the House of Representatives agreed last month to push back the regional elections to Dec. 9 from September because of the health crisis.
The central government subsequently issued Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 2/2020, now pending House approval, as a legal basis for delaying the elections, which will be held simultaneously in the country's 270 regions.
The regulation stipulates two postponement scenarios. First is to hold the voting on Dec. 9 and the second is to further delay the poll if the pandemic is still not over by then.
Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto suggested that polling day should be held after the World Health Organization (WHO) lowers the pandemic status, saying that as long as the pandemic is not over, the situation would remain unpredictable.
"After the WHO announced it, we can continue the stages of the 2020 regional elections," Terawan said on Sunday in a virtual meeting with the General Elections Commission (KPU).
The KPU has issued a regulation as a follow up to the Perppu, stipulating two scenarios with the election stages to begin either on June 6 or June 15.
Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) head Abhan said the KPU should consider Terawan’s opinion and consult with the ministry, especially since data showed that 55 percent of COVID-19 patients who have died lived in regions that will participate in the elections.
Experts and analysts have suggested a further delay to the elections, arguing that the government should now remain focused on addressing the pandemic, which has taken its toll on thousands of people's lives and the economy in the country.
Constitutional law expert Feri Amsari of Andalas University in West Sumatra asserted that amid the current conditions, the more important thing was to consider public health, not merely political calculations.
He went on to say that Indonesia should not follow in the footsteps of South Korea, which recently held its election on April 15 amid the pandemic, since the East Asian country had prepared for the polling day for a long time.
"Indonesia has just issued the Perppu, so we have limited time [until December]. If it is forced, it would be a heavy burden on the KPU,” Feri said.
Critics have also said that voting in December meant allowing incumbent candidates to benefit from the coronavirus crisis response as they could use it as an opportunity to boost their popularity among voters.
There have been some cases of COVID-19 aid used for political purposes. In Central Java, for instance, Klaten Regent Sri Mulyani -- who is seeking a second term in office -- recently faced criticism for putting her image on bottles of hand sanitizer in aid packages sponsored by the Social Affairs Ministry.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician denied that it was her team who put her image there, saying that the stickers might have been placed on the bottles by people who wanted to tarnish her image.
Mochammad Afiffudin of Bawaslu told The Jakarta Post recently that similar cases had also occurred in North Toraja and East Lampung.
"In East Lampung, the houses of the Family Hope Program [PKH] beneficiaries were affixed with stickers with the regent's photo, who happens to be seeking reelection," he said.
Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) chief researcher Djayadi Hanan said on Sunday that pushing back voting in the regional elections to sometime next year would prevent incumbent candidates from exploiting the coronavirus crisis for their political campaigns.
By that time, the incumbent regional heads could no longer appear as leaders during the crisis, he said, given that the tenures of most regional leaders would end in February 2021.
“If the non-incumbent candidates, for example, now go to the people and beg for their blessing, what would the people say? They are busy taking care of their lives," he said in a virtual discussion on Sunday.
Concurring with Djayadi, Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) director Titi Anggraini also did not recommend voting in December, saying that it was too risky and could affect the quality of the election stages.
"If we don’t consider it seriously, it may undermine the public faith in our democracy," she said.
House Commission II overseeing home affairs chairman Ahmad Doli Kurnia said the legislative body would soon hold a hearing with the home minister and the KPU in response to the concerns.
The Golkar Party politician pointed out that the Perppu itself had stipulated an option for the election day in view of the pandemic.
“Because it’s urgent, we have decided to hold a meeting amid the recess period," he said.
The House is set to discuss the Perppu in the next sitting period, which will begin on June 12.