Corona pandemic: DPR harbors doubts on upcoming 2020 Regional Elections

Sufmi Dasco Ahmad. (Photo: Bachren/IO)

IO, Jakarta – The Election Commission (Komission Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”) has provided no option to postpone the upcoming 2020 Simultaneous Regional Election (March-April 2020), a logical step in response to the spread of the Covid-19). However, KPU has in fact held discussions to determine what steps need to be taken in view of the pandemic. It hopes that all efforts to suppress the spread for the next two weeks will be successful, as that would allow the 2020 Regional Elections to be held on schedule. “So far all 2020 Regional Elections procedures are still on track in terms of stages, programs, and schedules,” declared KPU Chairman Arief Budiman in Jakarta on Tuesday (17/03/2020).

The Simultaneous Regional Elections will be held soon in 270 regions across Indonesia, including 9 provinces, 224 regencies, and 37 municipalities. According to KPU Regulation Number 16 of 2019, concerning the 2020 Regional Election Stages, Programs, and Schedules, this year’s Campaign Period is scheduled to extend from 11 July to 19 September 2020, with the election proper to be held on 23 September 2020.

In view of the KPU’s stance, House Deputy Speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad urges the Government, in this case the Coordinating Ministry of Po­litical, Legal, and Security Af­fairs; the Ministry of Home Affairs, the KPU, and the Election Monitoring Agency (Badan Pengawas Pemilihan Umum – “Bawaslu”) to work together with the civil citizenry on expediting electoral issues and reviewing the performance mechanism of the 2020 Regional Elections. Dasco believes that the Government needs to prepare alternatives on how to hold them. “Are we delaying the performance of the Simultaneous Regional Elections, or are we going to continue with the agreed agenda? Naturally, with the provision that we implement certain mechanisms to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Of course, the Government will need to alter these measures if it turns out to be a national health emergency,” he said.

If the disease continues to spread, Dasco suggests that the most important step for anticipating the impact of Covid-19 on the 2020 Regional Elections is by campaigning through social media. Campaign programs and promises can be delivered through the mass media or other platforms that do not require face-to-face meetings. “In the digital era, campaigns without meeting face-to-face and without involving the masses are absolutely feasible,” he said.

Similar to Dasco, the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perkumpulan untuk Pemilihan Umum dan Demokrasi – “Perludem”) Executive Director Titi Anggraini has requested the KPU to postpone the 2020 Regional Elections if the situation becomes critical. She believes that KPU has the option to postpone some of the stages in the Regional Elections, or even delay holding it on 23 September 2020. “It’s possible that a partial delay in implementing some of the stages would not affect the Election Day, but it is possible to delay the Elections if stages are postponed,” she said.

Titi stated that the possibility of delaying the 2020 Regional Elections is covered in Article 120 Paragraph (1) of Regional Elections Law Number 1 of 2015, which states “In case in part or all of the Electoral Region a riot, safety disturbance, natural disaster, or other disturbances that prevent part of the stages in the Elections cannot be performed, delayed Elections are possible.”  Therefore, it would not be hard for KPU to take such a step. “If previous KPUs succeeded in confirming the legitimacy of banning the candidacy of former corruption convicts amid existing legal arguments, it should be easier for the current KPU to formulate a legal basis for delaying the implementation of Regional Elections’ stages,” she said.

However, if KPU decides to hold Regional Elections according to schedule, Perludem requests that KPU create a technical guideline for the current Regional Elections’ stages, and adjust these stages to emphasize preventative steps of covid-19. Furthermore, KPU is urged to immediately coordinate with relevant officials, especially the Covid-19 Mitigation Acceleration Task Force, to determine the status for holding the 2020 Regional Elections. This will ensure the safety and security of all electoral organizers, voters, and participants.

Meanwhile, political observer Endri Sanopaka stated that Regional Elections’ organizers will find it overwhelming to organize, especially in terms of increasing voter participation on Election Day. One of the organizers’ targets is to improve participation in the Regional Elections via socialization. However, face-to-face socialization is still necessary because a lot of our citizens live on remote islands. It will be difficult to hold these direct meetings if the Covid-19 disaster is not yet mitigated by June 2020, i.e. when political parties submit their candidates for Regional Elections.

Endri believes that the limited use of smartphones and the lack of interest in online news among the residents of remote areas of the country, especially housewives, would be a problem if electoral organizers attempt to socialize Regional Elections through apps or social media. “It has been a difficult condition from the start, but worsened due to the sudden occurrence of Covid-19,” he said.

No matter what, socializing Candidate Pairs during Regional Elections is necessary. The model of socializing efforts needs to be discussed quickly, in order for them to be implemented to the people effectively. Our citizens have the right to know the vision and mission of each Regional Electoral candidate before they exercise their right to vote in the booths. Socializing should be performed not just by electoral organizers, but also by the political engine of each party participating in the Elections. “There are ‘restricted meetings’ and ‘great meetings’; are these to be eliminated? If so, how do we get the people to learn of the vision and mission of each candidate? We need to prepare effective and efficient socialization models to replace mass meetings,” he said.

Endri further mentioned the issue of getting voter data, including the process of recording electronic citizen ID cards, which requires the relevant citizen to attend the Demographics Office in person. Updating of voter data is also performed physically for an actual check – in other words, officials must go to citizens’ homes to see for themselves. “This is also an issue. We are not ready for a more sophisticated method, one that does not require the voter to meet directly with officials,” he said.

However, e-voting should not be something that we discuss only now. Plans for this should have been made equally throughout Indonesia a few years ago, as this system is more effective and efficient for Regional Elections. It is both more affordable and can be better controlled. “Now it all depends on the state – do we want to use a strong voting and vote count system that can reassure the citizens, or not?” Endri asked. (Dan)