Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Jakarta – Several Indonesian civil society groups have launched a non-partisan movement to ensure that the February 2024 presidential and legislative elections are conducted fairly, amid growing concerns of electoral fraud as campaigning gathers steam.
Jaga Pemilu (Guard the Election) was launched on Nov 21 in Jakarta by prominent and widely-respected social activists, including poet and essayist Goenawan Mohamad and anti-corruption champion Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas. It was attended by scores of human rights campaigners and university lecturers.
At the event, Mr Erry stressed that the people behind the Jaga Pemilu movement are independent and not members of any political party.
"What we will do is to guard the election process and protect it from any manipulation or deviation from the existing regulations," he said.
He urged people to report or send photo or video evidence of election fraud to Jaga Pemilu's digital platform.
This comes after recent reports of police officers taking down posters of presidential candidate Ganjar Pranowo across several towns and, in separate incidents, putting up posters of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI).
PSI, helmed by President Joko Widodo's younger son Kaesang Pangarep, backs presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who is Indonesia's current Defence Minister.
Mr Ganjar, 55, is the staunchest rival of Mr Prabowo, 72, who has teamed up with Mr Widodo's elder son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 36, as his vice-president candidate.
Following protests from MPs last week, national police generals were grilled in Parliament over the matter, with a police general saying he will make thorough checks and follow up with necessary actions.
Ms Ririn Sefsani, chairman of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation and an initiator of Jaga Pemilu, said: "We cannot stay quiet... There is a possibility that the state apparatus may even be involved in election-rigging."
Three presidential candidates and their running mates will start official campaigning on Nov 28, ahead of the election slated for Feb 14, 2024.
Mr Ganjar, a former central Java governor, is running with Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD, 66.
Former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54, has National Awakening Party chairman Muhaimin Iskandar, 57, as his vice-president candidate.
Indonesia's Election Organisation Ethics Council said it had received more than 280 reports of alleged electoral fraud and violations by Nov 1, including allegations that scores of commissioners from Bawaslu (Elections Supervisory Agency) are affiliated with political parties.
The Jakarta Post reported that Mr Anies' campaign team complained against West Java acting governor Bey Machmuddin for blocking the use of a government building in Bandung on Oct 8 for a rally.
Mr Bey argued that government buildings should not be used to host political events, but on that same day, Mr Kaesang held a political rally at the government-owned Arcamanik Sports Venue, also in Bandung.
Political observers said fears of election manipulation arose following a controversial Constitutional Court ruling on Oct 16, which paved the way for Mr Gibran to contest in the presidential election despite being under the qualifying age of 40.
The ruling came just days before candidates were due to register to run for president and vice-president.
Then Constitutional Court chief justice Anwar Usman, who is Mr Gibran's uncle-in-law, was removed from his position by the court's ethics committee on Nov 7 following widespread public protest against the decision.
"The fact is the Constitutional Court as the election referee was compromised. We are worried the upcoming elections will not be fine," said civil rights activist Alif Iman Nurlambang, who moderated discussions at Jaga Pemilu's launch event. He said the level of concern was at its highest since the country began holding direct presidential elections in 2004.
Professor Sulistyowati Irianto, who teaches anthropology of law at the University of Indonesia, said politicians should act within existing laws.
"An election is a significant democratic event. If democracy is not upheld in an election, it would set off floods of lawsuits and possibly social unrest or even riots," she added.
Entrepreneur Anton J. Supit, who is a senior member of Indonesian employers' association (Apindo), said at the same forum that a legitimate government is necessary for a stable economy.
"Our economic development would only excel if we have a legitimate and strong government. Legitimacy is important and it can only be attained through a just and fair election," he added.
Addressing reports about campaign posters being taken down in Bali, Mr Widodo on Oct 31 said he would sack any civil servant or police officer who shows partiality leading up to the election.
"Do not take sides. We are being watched. Beware, you will easily get found out if you take sides," he said.