COVID-19 Op-ed

Postponing the Regional elections amid COVID-19: Is Indonesia’s democracy in trouble?

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Muhammad Ammar HidayahtullohA
postgraduate student at Master of Development Practice, the University of
Queensland and a researcher at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Muhammadiyah
Yogyakarta.

COVID-19 resulted not only in global health and economic
crisis but also the disruption of the democratic process. Many countries
worldwide have decided to postpone elections, including the world’s oldest
democracy, the United States. The International Foundation for Electoral
Systems (IFES) (2020) has recorded the postponement of election in 57
countries across five continents with a total of 99 general elections as of
10 June 2020. The Indonesian Government also announced on 21 March 2020 the
delay of its regional elections (Farisa, 2020a).The Government offered three
reasons for the delay of the Indonesian regional elections: to halt the
spread of COVID-19, to ensure democratic election, and to protect the
country’s political stability. The regional elections, which aim to elect
nine Governors, 224 Regents, and 37 Mayors at the same time, were originally
scheduled in September 2020 (Nurhasim, 2020). However, through the adoption
of the Government Regulation in Lieu of Acts (PERPPU) No. 2/2020 concerning
the Election of Governors, Regents, and Mayors on 2 May 2020, the Government
pushed the elections back to December 2020 (Government of Indonesia, 2020).
Due to the uncertainty of the situation, there have been calls to further
postpone the elections to June 2021 (Marchelin, 2020).As the world’s
fourth-largest democracy, Indonesia’s organizing a public vote amid COVID-19
is a significant challenge. Elections that are supposed to be a festival of
democracy might lose its euphoric values due to the pandemic. Elections are
not only about the occasion when voters use their rights to vote but also
about the election process from the political campaign to the announcement of
election results.The election in Indonesia is already too expensive without
the pandemic. An elected Regional Head must spend around IDR 28 billion (USD
2 million) to win the position, and a winning Governor must spend IDR 166
billion (USD 12 million) to win a governorship (Berenschot, 2019). As strict
health protocols will be enforced due to the pandemic, the budget spent by
candidates for political campaigns and by the Government to run the regional
election is more likely to increase significantly. Consequently, the increase
of election costs would fuel corruption even worse, further limiting the
budget to improve public services, including healthcare facilities where it
is needed most at this time.The pandemic will reduce political participation
because some people are more vulnerable than others towards the pandemic,
such as the elderly and persons with disabilities (PWDs). In the 2019
election, only 1.25 million PWDs registered to vote, which is less than 5
percent of PWDs (Tamtomo, 2019). Moreover, the infrastructure to support PWDs
during the election remains inadequate. Compared to the last year’s election,
this year’s election with the pandemic would produce different turnouts as
inequalities across different groups of people might be further intensified
(James, 2020). For the fact that Indonesia is an archipelagic country,
ensuring access to people in rural and remote areas to cast a vote is another
challenge for Indonesia’s democracy. In fact, the National Election Commission
has reduced its voter turnout’s target from 82 percent to 77.5 percent this
time (Farisa, 2020b).Besides affecting candidates and voters, the pandemic
might also affect staff who organize the regional election. Reportedly, more
than 600 volunteers who assisted the voting process in polling stations died
of exhaustion during the election last year (Berenschot, 2019). If this
situation is not mitigated, the 2020 regional election might possess a
greater risk of death for elections’ staff.Last year, the Indonesian
Government was praised for its ability to hold the largest one-day elections
However, this success might not be the case for Indonesia’s 2020 regional
election, given the current circumstances. At worse, there might not be any
elections in 2020. As such, questioning whether Indonesia’s democracy is at
stake amid the global pandemic is important as a critical reflection to
prepare the election in the worst possible scenario. In this crucial time,
ensuring the regional election in December should be a priority. At the same
time,  reforming the election system needs to be done regularly by
learning from the best practices and experience.The Indonesian Government
should learn from the South Korean Government that finished its national legislative
election amid the pandemic. By implementing strict health protocols, such as
obliging voters to wear physical protection such as face masks and disposable
gloves, enforcing social distancing, and conducting temperature check before
the voting process, the South Korean Government has successfully held the
election, even with the increased voter turnout (Kim, 2020). Moreover,
ensuring that everyone can use their right to vote regardless of their age,
gender, religion, disability, geographical locations, as well as guaranteeing
the well-being of election staff by improving election infrastructure are
essential for reforming and nurturing Indonesia’s democracy.References:Berenschot,
W. (2019, 19 July). Indonesia’s elections too expensive. The
Jakarta Post
. https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/07/19/indonesias-elections-too-expensive.htmlFarisa,
F. C. (2020a, March 22). KPU resmi terbitkan SK penundaan tahapan pilkada,
ini rinciannya… Kompas. https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2020/03/22/06253311/kpu-resmi-terbitkan-sk-penundaan-tahapan-pilkada-ini-rinciannyaFarisa,
F. C. (2020b, June 4). Pilkada saat pandemi, KPU kurangi target partisipasi
pemilih jadi 77.5 persen. Kompas. https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2020/06/04/16330941/pilkada-saat-pandemi-kpu-kurangi-target-partisipasi-pemilih-jadi-775-persenGovernment
of Indonesia. (2020). Government Regulation in Lieu of Acts No.
2/2020 concerning the Election of Governors, Regents, and
Mayors.
IFES. (2020). Elections postponed due to COVID-19
as of 10 June, 2020
. https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/elections_postponed_due_to_covid-19.pdfJames,
T. (2020, 17 March). Should elections be postponed because of coronavirus?
The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/should-elections-be-postponed-because-of-coronavirus-133819Kim,
A. B. (2020, 22 April). South Korea successfully holds elections during
COVID-19 pandemic. The Heritage Foundation. https://www.heritage.org/asia/commentary/south-korea-successfully-holds-general-elections-during-covid-19-pandemicMarchelin,
T. (2020, 11 June). Democracy at stake: demands surface to postpone regional
election until 2021. Jakarta Globe. https://jakartaglobe.id/news/democracy-at-stake-demands-surface-to-postpone-regional-election-until-2021Nurhasim,
M. (2020, May 15). Dampak pandemi COVID-19 terhadap pilkada 2020.
Pusat Penelitian Politik LIPI. http://www.politik.lipi.go.id/kolom/kolom-2/politik-nasional/1398-dampak-pandemi-covid-19-terhadap-pilkada-2020Tamtomo,
A. B. (2019, March 19). Infografik: pemilih penyandang disabilitas dalam
pemilu 2019. Kompas. https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2019/03/19/15285281/infografik-pemilih-penyandang-disabilitas-dalam-pemilu-2019

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