Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – The House of Representatives and the government have agreed to a set of health measures devised by the General Elections Commission (KPU) for the Dec. 9 simultaneous regional elections, but worries remain about virus fears depressing voter turnout.
The Dec. 9 elections will be for 270 regional positions: nine governors, 224 regents and 37 mayors. They will be held under strict health protocols laid out in a KPU regulation approved by the House on Monday. The regions holding elections include Surabaya and 18 other cities and regencies in East Java, one of the provinces hit hardest by COVID-19.
Association of Elections and Democracy (Perludem) executive director Titi Anggraini said election stakeholders – the KPU and the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) – should strongly encourage voters to participate in the upcoming elections.
She warned that low voter turnout would harm the reputation of the KPU and those who had insisted on holding the elections in December: the government and the House.
"It will affect the public's trust in elected local governments [if they are] established by minimal public support. The reputation of the central government and the KPU will therefore be at stake because people will see that they insisted on holding the elections under suboptimal conditions," she said.
The KPU was put under pressure to establish special measures after the House and government decided in late May that this year's regional elections would be held on Dec. 9, even though the epidemic showed no sign of abating. The elections were pushed back by about three months from their initial date of Sept. 23, as mandated by a regulation in lieu of law issued by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in May.
Hadar Nafis Gumay, cofounder of election watchdog Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit) and a former KPU commissioner, said the onus was now on the election organizers to strictly enforce health protocols to encourage people to vote.
"If, leading up to election day, [election organizers] are able to show discipline and strict enforcement of health protocols, I believe the public will have faith and participate [in the elections]," Hadar said. "If not, I am concerned that only some people will turn out and the level of participation will decrease."
National COVID-19 task force chief Doni Monardo said earlier this month that 40 regions set to hold elections were considered at high risk for COVID-19 transmission. He said the task force would continue to update the election organizers on the issue.
The KPU, however, is confident about the safety of the December elections, saying it had drafted the regulation after consulting with the Health Ministry and the national COVID-19 task force.
"The health protocols will be implemented at every stage to reduce the risk whenever there are interactions between organizers, voters and candidates," KPU Commissioner I Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi said.
The regulation, which was approved by House Commission II overseeing Home Affairs on Monday, was shared with other stakeholders on Tuesday and will soon be officially announced, Dewa said.
The KPU regulation and a similar regulation introduced by Bawaslu state that safety measures such as the use of face masks and physical distancing are mandatory for KPU officers, candidates and voters during all stages of the elections, from preparations to the final vote count one week after election day.
The regulations also limit the number of participants in indoor campaign events to 40 percent of the venue's capacity. Campaign activities that involve large crowds, such as concerts, have been banned.
COVID-19 patients will be allowed to cast their votes after 12 p.m., an hour before voting booths close, as long as ballot papers are available, at designated polling stations at nearby hospitals.
The health protocols will be enforced equally in all election-holding regions, regardless of their respective COVID-19 statuses, KPU chairman Arif Budiman said during the Monday hearing with House Commission II.
"We do not know what the situation will be on voting day or during the campaign period, which is why we are applying the same standard to all regions [that are holding elections]," said Arif.