Galih Gumelar, Jakarta – A high possibility of a low voter turnout, coupled with increased probability of money politics in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, will compromise the integrity of the December 2020 simultaneous regional elections and will likely result in local leaders having low electoral support from the public, experts have said.
Considering that possible scenario, election observers and political analysts speaking during a webinar organized by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Wednesday called for a delay in the implementation of the simultaneous regional elections in 270 regencies and municipalities until there are new rules and regulations that can guarantee the safety of both voters and political candidates.
Political analyst Hadar Nafis Gumay of the Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity said there should be an assurance that all electoral processes could guarantee the safety of everyone involved and that under the current arrangement there were enough loopholes that could put everyone at risk of catching COVID-19.
"Elections and pandemics don't mix. Elections are loud, and pandemics should be quiet. We need to have new rules for having an election during a pandemic. The General Elections Commission [KPU] has inserted some new articles on social distancing measures, but they were very narrow. This goes beyond technical regulations. We need to change the law on regional elections," said Hadar, a former KPU commissioner himself.
Hadar said the proposed new elections law, which the government could write in six months, should guarantee the integrity of the elections and that all processes involved would be of high quality. "The benchmark of a good election is participation. With COVID-19, people will be reluctant to join the process and there will be not too many parties monitoring the process. The new law should address this," Hadar said, adding that the government should only delay the elections by up to six months.
Holding regional elections during the COVID-19 pandemic would only encourage candidates, especially the incumbents, to engage in money politics as well as abuse the pandemic relief efforts to their benefit, Hadar said.
"The contest will be an unequal one. Incumbents will abuse COVID-19 relief funds to get more support, while voters, who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, will be more accommodating to illicit practices," he said.
Political observer Djohermansyah Djohan of the Institute of Public Administration (IPDN) argued that such corrupt practices would only perpetuate the culture of corruption among local leaders who were voted into office in December elections.
"Candidates who win in this year's elections may not be able to exercise good leadership during their upcoming tenures, and this could eventually cause political instability in their respective regions," he said.
Given such a risk, Djohermansyah also called on the government to delay the regional elections.
"We all want the elections to produce leaders who are capable and have the integrity to resist any kind of corruption. Therefore, I think it's best for the government to postpone the elections until the risks can be mitigated," he said.
Since May, civil society organizations and election activists have been calling on the government to postpone the elections, in which 270 regional leaders will be elected, comprising nine governors, 224 regents and 37 mayors, due to public health risks.
Critics have also aired concern that the elections will have poor quality of outcomes due to the expected low voter turnout and rampant practices of vote-buying to lure voters.
Aside from those concerns, they have also questioned candidates' leadership qualities, since several of them are going to have no opponents in this year's elections. The KPU has recorded that 24 out of 734 candidates in this year's elections will be uncontested – surging significantly from only three candidates in the 2015 polls. Two candidates running this year are President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's son Gibran Rakabuming Raka and his son-in-law Bobby Nasution.
Epidemiologist Pandu Riono of the University of Indonesia has called on the government to delay the elections until the COVID-19 pandemic can be brought under the control.
"The infection rate will continue to rise up until December, when we have the regional elections, and this shows that the pandemic is not yet under control. But the government has already talked about ending the pandemic, and this language has been used to justify the decision to press ahead with holding regional elections," Pandu said in the same webinar.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government would welcome any suggestions to improve the quality of regional elections, which he said had often produced corrupt regional leaders.
"We are more than happy to receive input to have better arrangements for better regional elections, which we can apply for the upcoming regional elections," Mahfud said. "But we will discuss that when the December polls are over."