Dangerous games

57
Irawan Ronodipuro
INDEPENDENT OBSERVER

IO – In last week’s column I covered the unethical practices of Indonesian pollsters.  Because survey companies are left unchecked by electoral authorities and free to publish wildly inaccurate polls with impunity (as they have in past elections), undecided voters could easily be influenced to cast their support in favor of Jokowi.

Why?  As any good pollster knows, there is a wealth of literature and psychological studies on the “bandwagon effect”, which refers to the tendency for undecided voters to be swayed by polls and ultimately favor the candidate being touted as the front-runner.

Many of the same pollsters who ended up being off the mark by as much as twenty percent in last year’s regional elections are claiming Jokowi is unstoppable.   And ‘respected’ pollsters are now saying Jokowi is ahead of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto by as much as—oddly enough—twenty percent.

Of course, those claims lack credulity if one bothers to check the track record of pollsters.  Sadly, most people don’t, and if you believe those numbers and you are not sure who to vote for, then supporting the winning horse in the race might seem like, in the end, to be a rationale choice.

Besides the fact such trickery is unethical and undermines the integrity of Indonesia’s elections, there is another reason to cry foul and take notice.  Rigged polls are bad enough—but what if the elections also end up being crooked as well?

As we go to print, there are valid concerns the voter registration list issued by the Home Affairs Ministry, which is headed by a ruling coalition politician, contains a massive number of double entries and dead voters.  Hashim Djojohadikusumo, the media and communications director for Prabowo’s campaign, was recently quoted in saying “we’ve discovered 17.5 million dubious names on the official voter roll.”  The National Elections Commission, or KPU, has launched an investigation, and whether or not they find indications of fraudulent intent by the Jokowi administration will be apparent within the coming week.

So far, statements from the KPU are not instilling confidence. Instead of promising a comprehensive probe and refraining from making any comments until the investigations are completed, KPU head Arief Budiman has thrown some thinly-veiled barbs at Prabowo’s Gerindra party, saying “what we see now is some people, some parties, trying to create distrust of the KPU, because it will lead to distrust of the process and result, and eventually trigger conflicts.”

Making matters worse, there are reports out of KPU that Chinese and Russian hackers are trying to infiltrate the voter database, which according to Budiman, are being done to “manipulate and modify” content as well as create ghost voters.  But, according to Budiman, “the election process will not be disturbed because we can handle the attacks.”

Again, there is good reason to question KPU’s claims.  Indonesia’s cyber defense capabilities are notorious for being poor, and the Jokowi administration has done little to upgrade its technologies and human resources to handle cyber intrusions since the president first entered office in 2014.  Why, then, is KPU so confident it can properly defend Indonesia’s elections?

By indirectly accusing Gerindra of trying to create discord by challenging the validity of the voter roll and sowing fears of hacking while, at the same time, saying the situation is under control, the KPU is causing confusion about exactly what is happening behind closed doors.   Where is the proof of hackers taking aim at the KPU and, if they actually do exist, how can we be sure we are being sufficiently protected?  And, if the KPU investigations do not reveal fraud, how can they explain their findings being at complete odds with the opposition?

Which brings us back to the polls.  If KPU’s current probe into the voter list inexplicably comes up empty handed and there are legitimate findings of fraud in next month’s election, then the chances of the government allowing for a fair audit and legal recourse by the losing parties seem extremely remote.   Why?  The fact there are biased and massively rigged polls provides the Jokowi team with a convenient back story in the event of a contested election:  with fake polls predicting Prabowo to be the losing candidate, it will ostensibly be easier for the Jokowi administration to dismiss his case and criticize him, as in the 2014 elections, for being a sore loser.

Where this situation leads to next is anybody’s guess.  The KPU, which is tasked to be an impartial player in the electoral process, needs to think more carefully about how it can engender trust instead of trying to demonize parties demanding a fair election.  Trying to paint an ugly picture of the opposition and its intentions is a dangerous game.  It should stop now.