Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – Home Minister Tito Karnavian has said the government will go through with its plan to hold simultaneous regional elections on Dec. 9 despite mounting concerns about the public health risks and the possibility that incumbents would use COVID-19 policies and funds improperly to garner electoral support.
The elections had initially been slated for Sept. 23 but were postponed until December through a Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) issued earlier this month.
Experts and analysts have suggested that a further delay is necessary, arguing that the government must remain focused on addressing the COVID-19 outbreak, which has taken lives and gutted the economy.
Speaking at a hearing with House of Representatives Commission II overseeing home affairs on Wednesday, Tito said the regional leaders, especially incumbent candidates, would be more motivated to do their best to control the spread of the virus if elections were looming.
"We can turn it into an opportunity to support the COVID-19 response because incumbent candidates will go all out," Tito said.
Tito also dismissed experts' concerns that holding elections in December would unfairly favor incumbents, saying that contenders could use their weaknesses in handling the COVID-19 outbreak to garner public attention.
"There are quite a lot of problems, such as social aid distribution, the number of positive cases," he said. "Challengers could offer new ideas to people. This could also encourage the incumbents."
Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto previously suggested that election day should be held after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of the pandemic.
However, Tito said he had discussed the matter with Terawan and the National COVID-19 task force and said they had agreed to the December timetable.
He added that by rescheduling election day to December, people would also benefit as they would receive more social aid from the candidates, both incumbents and challengers.
In addition, he said, a voting day during the pandemic could also revive the economy in the regions.
"There might be some new opportunities, such as for an EO [event organizer] for political campaign events during the pandemic as the campaign can be done virtually," he said.
The General Elections Commission (KPU) confirmed at the meeting that it had received a letter from National COVID-19 Task Force chief Doni Monardo on Wednesday instructing the commission to continue election preparations while implementing health protocols to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
KPU chairman Arief Budiman said, given the approval, the commission would begin the preparatory stages of the elections in June.
However, he said that the number of polling stations and the need for health provisions would be higher this year, as the KPU had to provide larger spaces for voters, extra ballot boxes, masks, disinfectant and hand sanitizer.
"The budget is predicted to increase by Rp 535.95 billion [US$36.3 million]. However, our budget has been cut to Rp 297.53 billion. Therefore, we need financial support," he said.
At the end of the meeting, Commission II approved the government's plan to reschedule polling day to Dec. 9 as long as health protocols were followed.