Galih Gumelar, Jakarta – The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) have warned about potential vote buying in the upcoming simultaneous regional elections, which the government insists on holding on Dec. 9 despite the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.
The two agencies are worried that candidates may woo voters, especially those who are suffering from financial hardship as a result of the epidemic, by offering money or daily supplies.
KPK deputy chairman Nurul Ghufron said these voters would be susceptible to accepting gifts offered by candidates.
"[COVID-19 hardships] might trigger the public to vote for candidates who give them cash and basic necessities," Nurul said in a recent virtual public discussion. "Such a transactional approach is illegal because candidates will exploit those who are enduring economic difficulties so that they can become regional leaders."
Nurul also warned that vote buying might lead to corrupt practices if the candidates who win attempt to offset their extra campaign spending through illicit deals.
The KPK, he said, had arrested dozens of regional leaders for allegedly abusing their power for personal gain, even though it recorded a downward trend of such cases in the past two years. In 2019, the KPK arrested nine regional leaders for corruption, a sharp decline compared to 29 regional leaders in 2018.
"But still, we believe that vote buying in the upcoming elections will only produce more corrupt regional leaders in the future," he said.
The simultaneous elections on Dec. 9 will elect 270 regional leaders comprising nine governors, 37 mayors and 224 regents. The regions holding elections include Surabaya and 18 other cities and regencies in East Java, one of the provinces hit hardest by COVID-19, as well as 21 cities and regencies in Central Java, another province affected by the pandemic.
Bawaslu commissioner Fritz Edward Siregar said incumbents running for reelection were more likely to partake in vote buying given their access to social assistance funds – which are provided by the government but distributed by regional administrations. He said the misuse of funds was punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment under the 1999 Corruption Law and the 2007 Disaster Mitigation Law.
Fritz said incumbents might also benefit from the coronavirus crisis response as they could use it as an opportunity to boost their popularity among voters.
There have been some cases of COVID-19 aid being used for political purposes. In Central Java, for instance, Klaten Regent Sri Mulyani – who is seeking a second term in office – recently faced criticism for putting her image on bottles of hand sanitizer that were handed out in aid packages under the sponsorship of the Social Affairs Ministry. Sri has denied that it was her choice to put stickers of her likeness on the bottles.
"As of the end of May, we have recorded 23 cases in which regional leaders have allegedly politicized social aid. It is a corruptive behavior that damages democracy," Fritz said, adding that Bawaslu had reprimanded many of these regional leaders.
A survey released by Statistics Indonesia (BPS) on June 15 show that Indonesians are growing more permissive toward vote buying. It found that 32.74 percent of 1,200 respondents said they would tolerate people accepting money or gifts from candidates competing in legislative or regional elections, an increase from the 20.89 percent of respondents surveyed last year.
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) senior program manager for Asia and the Pacific, Adhy Aman, said forming a community watch at the grassroots level to regularly report alleged vote buying to Bawaslu could help curb the practice.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government was working with the KPK to build a strategy that tackles the issue.
"We need to find ways to prevent corruption from tainting the regional elections," he said.
The Home Ministry's acting director general for regional administration development, Safrizal, said the ministry would have public order agencies (Satpol PP) in 270 regions look out for serangan fajar (dawn attack), a form of vote buying that happens directly prior to voting.