Jakarta – The central government has insisted on holding the simultaneous regional elections in December despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Home Ministry explaining that elections were needed to prevent regional leadership posts being filled for too long by acting heads.
Acting heads will take charge if regional heads have finished their terms of office this year without an elected replacement.
"Obviously, this will mean we will have [local administrations] filled only by acting heads, and the government feels this wouldn't be prudent," Home Ministry Regional Autonomy Director General Akmal Malik said on Thursday, as quoted by kompas.com.
Akmal likened regional heads to car drivers and acting heads to backup drivers. To deal with an extraordinarily winding road, he said, a driver needed to have legitimacy and the confidence of his passengers.
"[We should] avoid vacancies in our regional governments, so that they are not filled by backup drivers who may be – sorry – less competent. This is why we want to speed up the [election] process and hold the voting in December," he said.
This year's regional elections will be held in 270 regions, covering nine provinces, 224 regencies and 37 cities. Polling day was initially scheduled for Sept. 23, however, the government decided to push back the date to Dec. 9 because of the pandemic.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo signed Regulation in lieu of Law (Perppu) No. 2/2020 stipulating the postponement on May 4. The regulation also contains a provision saying that voting can be postponed again if December is not suitable.
Experts have raised concerns that the elections in December may escalate coronavirus transmission given that the preliminary stages of the elections will start in June, which will involve assembling election officials, the candidates' campaign team members and voters.
Akmal said the government would ensure all parties involved were healthy and safe during the pandemic. He said he would ask the General Elections Commission (KPU) to ensure the voting process adhered to the COVID-19 preventive health protocols.
"Nobody who is exposed [to the coronavirus] can come to the voting booths," he said. "We want to ensure that we develop our democracy. We should not stop being democratic just because of current problems."
Home Minister Tito Karnavian said there was no compelling reason to postpone the elections because a number of countries had successfully held elections during a pandemic, while there was no guarantee that the COVID-19 pandemic would end in 2021.
"If [the election] is postponed to 2021, can anyone guarantee that the COVID-19 outbreak will be finished by then? No, no one can guarantee that. It can be up and down," Tito said in a written statement on Thursday.
Tito said other countries had held elections in 2020, but had also postponed the stages to better prepare for the voting process. Countries that held elections in the midst of the pandemic included France and South Korea.
"If we do it in December, we will be the last country to hold elections [this year]," he said.
He said the government would channel public participation without neglecting the aspect of public safety by applying health protocols. He also asked for support and cooperation from local administrations and the community.
"During critical stages such as the inauguration of the PPS [voting committees], door-to-door voter data updating, also later during the campaign in September, October and November, and then the voting, [health] protocols will be strictly applied," said the minister. (syk)