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Jakarta Post

Lenient sanctions allow candidates to repeatedly ignore health protocols

  • Galih Gumelar

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, October 4, 2020   /   07:41 pm
Lenient sanctions allow candidates to repeatedly ignore health protocols Medical workers carry a fainted voter during a simulation of regional election in Banyuwangi, East Java on Sept. 14, 2020. The simulation was held as part of preparation for the 2020 simultaneous regional elections set to take place in 270 regions across Indonesia on Dec. 9. (Antara/Budi Candra Setya)

During the first week of campaigning for the 2020 simultaneous regional elections, a number of candidates violated COVID-19 health protocols while hosting face-to-face events, the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has said. Observers blame the leniency of sanctions for the number of health violations.

Bawaslu announced that an undisclosed number of candidates in 53 regencies and cities had hosted campaign events either without physical distancing and mask-wearing or with more than 50 people in attendance from Sept. 26 to Sept. 30. Bawaslu said it had dispersed the events, which were in violation of a General Elections Commission (KPU) regulation.

The regulation, issued on Sept. 23, bans candidates from holding rallies and crowded events such as concerts during the campaign period, which lasts from Sept. 26 to Dec. 5. Candidates must instead use online platforms to reach voters, and they may host face-to-face rallies indoors only when online campaigns are impossible. The events must be held under strict health protocols with no more than 50 attendees.

Candidates and members of their supporting political parties and campaign teams who violate the regulation will receive warnings from the KPU, a penalty that critics say is too lenient. Bawaslu may disband campaign activities in violation of social distancing rules and will report repeat offenders to the police.

Read also: KPU bans rallies, concerts for regional polls

Bawaslu member Mochammad Afifuddin said his office could not yet disclose the number of violations during the first week of campaigning because the data had not been compiled. He promised he would release details soon and would continue disclosing violations every week until the campaign season ended on Dec. 5.

He said 250 of the 582 campaign events held from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30 were face-to-face events and noted that candidates preferred promoting themselves in person to using online platforms. He said some of the in-person events had violated protocols but not all of them.

“We haven’t compiled the total number of campaign violations as of Friday, but what I can say is that many candidates still opted for face-to-face rallies,” Afifuddin told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

“We are afraid that such a way of campaigning will definitely increase the risk of COVID-19 contagion in the country if candidates keep neglecting health protocols.”

Health protocols during electionsHealth protocols during elections (JP/Hengky Wijaya)

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s son-in-law Bobby Nasution, who is running for mayor of Medan, reportedly violated health protocols in his campaign. Tempo.co reported that Bawaslu had warned Bobby’s campaign team to stop doing so.

KPU commissioner Ilham Saputra said the agency had received most of Bawaslu’s reports and would issue warnings to offenders. He did not disclose the number of the violations.

“Nonetheless, we thank candidates for not hosting concerts that could attract crowds,” he said, adding that everyone should play a part in ensuring safe elections.

Read also: Regional polls will be COVID-19 free: Minister

Election activists and health experts have repeatedly criticized the government for insisting on going ahead with the regional races as scheduled in December despite the public health risks. They have demanded postponement, warning of low voter turnout that could undermine the electoral process.

The outcry was amplified after Bawaslu found last month that 243 prospective candidates had violated health protocols by bringing large entourages to register their candidacies at regional KPU offices from Sept. 4 to Sept. 6.

Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) said more violations of health protocols would be seen in the near future “because the KPU regulation gives only lenient sanctions to the offenders”.

The KPU initially wanted to introduce stricter punishments than those that prevailed in its regulation, but the commission refrained from doing so because the 2016 Regional Elections Law did not provide for sanctions against people who put public health at risk during elections.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said he had instructed the police not to hesitate to take stern measures against repeat offenders who defied KPU warnings.

“There will be mass health protocol violations during campaigning over the next few weeks if we don’t take the issue seriously,” he said.

Many political parties have told their candidates to prioritize virtual campaign events and to stay disciplined in applying COVID-19 health protocols.