Sausan Atika, Jakarta – The Jakarta City Council is pressing ahead with its plan to select Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan's deputy governor on Monday despite an extension of the city's COVID-19 state of emergency.
The council's selection committee previously agreed to delay the search for the deputy governor until Monday, days after the COVID-19 emergency status in Jakarta was supposed to end on April 2. But the continued spread of COVID-19 cases forced Anies to extend the emergency status until April 19, which also extended large-scale social restrictions that have been in place since March, suspending school, office, religious and public activities.
The selection process for Anies' second-in-command will involve a plenary meeting that would vote between Gerindra Party politician Ahmad Riza Patria and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician Nurmansyah Lubis.
"The schedule remains the same so far [for April 6]," Basri Baco, the council's selection committee deputy chairman and a Golkar Party member, said on Friday.
The council held a confirmation hearing on Friday behind closed doors, during which the two candidates presented their vision and mission before the councillors. The two-hour session was reportedly attended by less than 20 attendees, including the committee members, one representative of each faction and the council's leadership.
After COVID-19 spread to Indonesia, the feasibility of a plenary meeting came into question, with the central government and the city administration advising against large-scale meetings.
The deputy governor seat has been left vacant since the former deputy governor, Gerindra politician Sandiaga Uno, resigned to run as a vice-presidential candidate alongside fellow Gerindra politician Prabowo Subianto in the 2019 presidential election.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) holds the most seats on the 106-strong council with 25, followed by Gerindra with 19 seats and the PKS with 15.
Riza, a former House of Representatives member, has said he was backed by, among others, the Golkar Party and the PDI-P. Meanwhile, Nurmasyah said he was backed by council deputy speaker Abdurrahman Suhaimi of the PKS.
Jakarta politicians, particularly the supporters of Riza, have insisted that a deputy governor is needed now more than ever to help Anies in handling the COVID-19 outbreak in the capital.
The council's selection committee chairman, Farazandi of the National Mandate Party (PAN), said the committee had ensured that COVID-19 precautionary measures would be properly implemented on the day of voting.
"[The plenary meeting] will be closed to the public and will be held in a sterile environment. The process will be recorded and distributed [to journalists] after the meeting," he said.
The plenary meeting is typically attended by at least 54 councillors, as mandated by the council's code of ethics.
"We will implement physical distancing. Only the governor, the candidates and the council's leadership members [will be in the room]. The rest will observe from a sterile chamber and take turns casting their votes," he said.
The country reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases with 191 fatalities as of Saturday. Jakarta is the hardest-hit province with 1,028 confirmed cases and 89 deaths.
Despite the decision by majority approval to hold the plenary meeting as scheduled, some councillors have continued to raise their objections, saying the council should focus on handling COVID-19.
"The councillors should stop talking about deputy governor [vote] and instead they should start discussing the reallocation of the city budget for COVID-19 measures," Wibi Andrino of the NasDem Party told The Jakarta Post.
"The council leadership should have initiated an emergency meeting to summon the governor because we have to make a swift decision regarding this particular budget."
A PKS councillor made a similar argument. "We still have some time to postpone the deputy governor selection after the COVID-19 emergency status is lifted. The selection process is not as simple as only listening to a speech. It should be interactive and require more time," PKS councillor Nasrullah said in a written statement.
Observers have repeatedly warned the councillors against using the pandemic as justification "to speed up" the plenary meeting without keeping transparency and good governance in check. They urged the Jakarta City Council to start the confirmation hearing only after the outbreak is completely over to allow the standard process to take place.
"They [councillors] seem to have reasoned that a deputy is needed to help the governor [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. Urgent or not, this is political and therefore they will always find justifications," Indonesia Political Review executive director Ujang Komarudin said.