Options for postponing Regional Elections

Titi Anggraini Director Executive of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perkumpulan untuk Pemilhan Umum and Demokrasi – “Perludem”)

IO – Indonesia is undoubtedly in a national emergency, with the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic. This status has been officially confirmed by a Decree of the National Disaster Management Authority (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana – “BNPB”) and will extend at least until 29 May 2020. Everyone is requested to cooperate in preventing any further spread of Covid-19, which affects more citizens daily. As of Friday (20/03/2020), the Government had confirmed 369 persons were positively infected with Coronavirus, with 31 deaths. Globally, more than 182,605 people in 162 countries have been infected. 

This is nothing to brush off. The Government of Indonesia has established a Covid-19 Mitigation Task Force. President Joko Widodo has urged citizens to avoid crowds, public places, and associating with more than 9 others (social distancing). He further recommends working from home for those who can afford to do so. Many Regional Governments, such as that of DKI Jakarta, Banten, West Java, Central Java, and East Java have adopted a policy of closing schools and sending students home to study, for at least 14 days from 16 March. 

At the same time, Electoral Organizers are struggling in their efforts to implement the 2020 Simultaneous Regional Elections for Regional Heads and their Deputies, according to the stages and programs scheduled by the Elections Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”). If the process goes ahead as planned, 270 regions (9 provinces, 224 regencies and 37 municipalities) in will participate in the biggest democratic event of the year. These 270 regions are distributed throughout 32 provinces: Aceh and DKI Jakarta do not participate in Regional Elections. Even though Regional Elections are only to be held on 23 September 2020, stages have been implemented starting on 23 September 2019. 

How can the KPU continue the implementation of Regional Elections, even in stages, in the context of a Coronavirus national emergency?

It turns out that KPU has not even considered postponing Regional  Elections as an option amid the global Covid-19 pandemic. KPU’s press release states that electoral stages scheduled for March-April 2020 will continue as planned, with a special arrangement. KPU will only postpone internal training and the launch of Regional Elections, which involve large groups of participants. 

KPU’s circulars merely regulate the workflow of staff at all levels, with the only addendum to request regional staff to provide health protective devices for KPU officials (face masks and hand sanitizers). Regional and Municipal KPU will appoint members of Electoral Committees (Panitia Pemungutan Suara – “PPS”) in districts in stages, from morning until afternoon. They will not amass in one session, in order to avoid crowding. Technical guidance, training, and launching are rescheduled for 1 April 2020. 

KPU officials will continue to verify actual support of individual candidates, with avoidance of direct contact. Officials will use sanitizers and wear health masks, and sterilize all equipment before and after use. Updating of voter data will also be performed, with similar protective measures. 

Fair for Everyone 

The Constitution and Regional Election Law stipulates that Regional Elections shall be organized democratically according to the principles of directness, generality, freedom, secrecy, honesty and fairness. All this time, these principles are adhered to only in the electoral process and competing candidates, while they should be inherent in and binding to everyone involved in the Elections –candidates, voters and organizers. 

As for the corona pandemic, it is important for us to ensure that the principle of fairness is implemented towards everyone – not just the candidates and voters, but also to the organizing personnel. Regional Elections do not take place out of thin air. Many people are required to run them: Commissioners, employees and secretariat of the KPU and the Elections Monitoring Agency (Badan Pengawas Pemilihan Umum – “Bawaslu”), down to electoral officials in districts, sub-districts, and voting points. Each and every one is an Indonesian citizen who naturally would like to work safely, without need to worry about getting infected with the dangerous Covid-19. Even though there are a number of protective measures in place, the anxiety due to the necessity of interacting with a large number of people when holding Regional Elections would naturally remain. 

However, Law Number 1 of 2015 concerning the Election of Governors, Regents, and Mayors does not prohibit the postponement of Regional Elections. Article 120 of this Law explicitly states that “In case riots, security threats, natural disasters, or any other threats that cause part of the electoral stages cannot be implemented in part or all of the electoral regions, Deferred Elections can be held.” The postponed election will recommence from the delayed electoral stage. In other words, our lawmakers have calculated the potential risk for when KPU and its staff execute the stages of the Regional Elections. Therefore, it is only professional for KPU to prepare comprehensive anticipatory strategies that can respond to even worst-case scenarios. 

Do Not Doubt 

KPU should not hesitate to follow the Government’s proposal to delay performing any activity that would involve a mass of people. The President requested all ranks of the Government to allow certain civil servants to work from home, using on-line interaction, with continued priority of providing prime service to the citizenry. The President reiterates that with the current condition, “It is time for us to work from home, study at home and pray at home.” 

Therefore, it would be acceptable for the KPU to decide to delay implementing a number of Regional Election stages that would require the massing of people, and to refrain from ceremonies such as appointments, work meetings, coordination meetings, seminar, technical guidance, etc. 

As a matter of fact, several countries affected by the Coronavirus have delayed their elections: France postponed the second round of its local elections, England delayed its local elections for a year, and several states in the USA delayed the primary for their Presidential Elections (Louisiana, Georgia, and Ohio); Puerto Rico follows this example. 

Delaying Regional Election stages signify that as per Article 120 of Law Number 1 of 2015, Deferred Elections might be held. Stakeholders should understand this decision, as Regional Elections are not meant to endanger the lives of the people who work in them. They are an instrument of democracy that should be implemented peacefully, fairly, and with no fear involved. Therefore, KPU must create a holistic plan to mitigate Covid-19, one that involves all relevant groups and authorities – the Task Force, the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”), the Government, political parties and electoral observers. KPU must consider various scenarios, including a possible delay of Regional Election stages. 

In order to prevent the people from alarm or suspicion, each KPU step must be followed with rapid, responsive, and measured public communications, so that all stakeholders understand the KPU decision. We have had enough of deaths in the 2019 Elections – let’s not make the same mistake in the 2020 Regional Elections. We know what dangers lie ahead now, after all.