Galih Gumelar, Jakarta – The General Elections Commission (KPU) is under pressure to procure all necessary health equipment and apply strict health protocols for the 2020 simultaneous regional elections, which the government has insisted on holding despite the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
KPU Commissioner Pramono Ubaid Thantowy said the health equipment procurement was supposed to start on Monday, right after the commission sought approval from the House. This includes personal protective equipment (PPE), which should be ready to be used by KPU officers when verifying independent candidates face-to-face on Wednesday, or within only two days if they secure House approval.
"The short amount of time available to prepare health equipment for the elections is concerning," Pramono told The Jakarta Post on Friday. "But we are confident that all equipment can be ready before June 24 [Wednesday]."
Such pressure on the commission comes after the House and the government decided in late May that this year's regional elections should be held on Dec. 9 to elect 270 regional leaders, comprising nine governors, 224 regents and 37 mayors, even though the epidemic showed no sign of easing. The elections were pushed back by around three months from their initial schedule of Sept. 23, as mandated by a regulation in lieu of law issued by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo earlier in May.
The commission has since been preparing a new KPU regulation (PKPU) stipulating a list of health protocols, along with PPE, that will be mandatory for election officers, candidates and voters during all stages of the elections, from the preparations starting this month to the final vote count a week after voting day. The procurement of the PPE for KPU officers, such as face masks, hand sanitizer, face shields and gloves, can be started once the regulation is in force.
But the commission has yet to issue the regulation because the prevailing regional election law obliges the KPU to consult the House on every draft regulation before passing it.
Even the consultation hearing was unilaterally moved by the House to Wednesday from the initial June 17, which Pramono described as only shortening the KPU's time to prepare the health equipment. The House reportedly said the delay was a result of their tight schedule during the new sitting session which began on June 15.
Pramono said even if the House approved the regulation on Wednesday, the KPU would still have to wait for the Law and Human Rights Ministry to promulgate it.
The KPU would use the regulation as a legal basis to ask the Finance Ministry to disburse the state funds allocated for procuring health equipment. In a recent hearing with the House, the ministry agreed to add Rp 4.7 trillion (US$335.71 million) to the current election budget of around Rp 10 trillion, with Rp 1.02 trillion having been ready to be disbursed this month.
To anticipate possible delays in PPE procurement due to PKPU uncertainty, the commission issued a circular on Friday instructing every regional KPU officer to perform the June 24 candidate verification by wearing any available PPE they had at home, even if it was only a face mask or gloves.
"The circular is our temporary strategy to anticipate possible delays in procurement and prevent this issue from becoming more complicated in the future," Pramono said.
Critics have urged policymakers to push back the elections to 2021 over fears the outbreak could continue late into the year – and even beyond it – and put voters and election organizers at risk of contracting the disease. They also warned against low voter turnout.
Hadar Nafis Gumay, cofounder of election watchdog Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit) and a former KPU commissioner, questioned why the government insisted on holding the December elections despite the slapdash preparation.
Fadli Ramadhanil of the Association for Election and Democracy (Perludem) said it would be "impossible for the KPU to apply strict health protocols in such a short time", recommending the KPU postpone the elections until next year.
But Home Minister Tito Karnavian was adamant about the plan, saying that postponing the elections would only undermine democracy.
"If we have to postpone the elections, let's say, until 2022, that means I have to assign 270 state officials as interim regional leaders for around two years," he said in a recent statement. "That will be a bad move since the public will be led by those who are not [their elected leaders]."