The Jakarta Post
The General Elections Commission (KPU) will ask candidates in the upcoming simultaneous regional elections in December to refrain from hosting campaign rallies in person and instead bring them online, as the government presses ahead with polling under the shadow of the pandemic.
Social media campaigns and teleconferencing will be the preferred method when nearly 300 regions in the country campaign from Sept. 26 to Dec. 5, election officials have said.
KPU commissioner I Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi said the move aimed to prevent further spikes in COVID-19 infections during election season, especially as the outbreak showed no signs of easing until at least the end of the year.
Indonesia’s simultaneous regional elections are to be held on Dec. 9.
“Every candidate for regional leadership has the right to promote themselves through campaign rallies, but we also don’t want such events to become new sources of COVID-19 infection,” Dewa told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “So we will urge them to hold online campaigns to replace the usual in-person rallies.”
The commission’s recommendation for online campaigns was laid out in a KPU regulation (PKPU) issued on July 6. It stipulates that KPU officers, candidates and voters must follow a list of health protocols at every stage of the election, from June 24 until the final results have been tallied a week after voting day.
The regulation also states that candidates are expected to hold campaign events online if their constituencies still have a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The provision, however, allows candidates to host in-person rallies in locations where infections have dissipated, according to Dewa.
But all in-person campaign events must be held in open-air spaces and under strict health protocols, which include physical distancing and not exceeding half of the location’s maximum occupancy.
Candidates, the commissioner said, are also required to obtain permission from the COVID-19 task force in their region prior to hosting campaign rallies.
“Even though our regulation still allows the candidates to hold campaign rallies under strict requirements, we hope they will opt for online campaigns for obvious health and safety reasons,” Dewa said.
He said the commission was drafting another regulation to accommodate plans to hold online campaign events, establishing technical guidelines for regional candidates to promote themselves online – through teleconferences and social media platforms.
He declined to discuss the details of the provisions, as they had yet to be considered by House of Representatives Commission II overseeing home affairs. The 2016 Regional Elections Law requires the KPU to consult with the House on all regulations before they are passed.
The head of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), Abhan, said he hoped the forthcoming regulation would grant his agency access to all social media and teleconferencing accounts used by the campaign teams.
He said doing so would make it easier for Bawaslu to monitor the online space for any campaign violations defined in the regional elections law, particularly smear campaigns and other malicious actions.
Griffith University epidemiologist Dicky Budiman said the KPU should require all candidates to hold online rallies to prevent further transmission of the disease, especially on the island of Java, where the most cases had been recorded.
The December elections are expected to install 270 regional leaders, consisting of nine governors, 37 mayors and 224 regents. Regions holding elections include 19 cities and regencies in East Java and 21 cities and regencies in Central Java, both among the provinces hit hardest by COVID-19.
“Holding [physical] campaign rallies is a risk to health and safety because Indonesia’s COVID-19 positivity rate is still above 10 percent, far above the WHO’s [World Health Organization] standard of 5 percent,” Dicky said.
“It is better for the candidates to stick to online campaigns.”
Election observers, however, are skeptical of the effectiveness of online campaigns at getting voters to the ballot box.
Hadar Nafis Gumay, a former KPU commissioner and co-founder of the Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit), said that voters living in rural and underdeveloped regions would find it difficult to participate in online campaigns because of a lack of access to the internet.
According to a 2019 Polling Indonesia survey conducted in cooperation with the Indonesian Internet Providers Association (APJII), 38.4 percent of people living in rural areas do not have access to the internet.
This comes in spite of the fact that Indonesia has one of the highest numbers of internet users in the region. Some 171 million people, or 64.8 percent of the total population of 264 million Indonesians, had internet access as of 2018.
Meanwhile, Fadli Ramadhanil of the Association of Elections and Democracy (Perludem) believes that voters will likely be reluctant to participate in elections, even if campaigns are moved online.
Fadli said that prospective voters were unlikely to prioritize the elections as long as the COVID-19 epidemic still raged on.
He based his argument on a Kompas Research and Development Department (Litbang) survey released on June 8 that showed that only 29.8 percent of the 5,371 respondents agreed that the elections should be held in the midst of the pandemic.