IO – Voting and vote counting for the 2020 Regional Elections were executed properly on Wednesday, 9 December. Many people expressed their appreciation of the smoothness and harmony seen on Election Day, which eased concerns about holding Regional Elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, others warned against overconfidence in claiming that the Regional Elections will not cause COVID-19 infection, because the incubation period generally takes several days after infection, with the average sufferer showing symptoms within five days.
A sad example is the untimely death of the Head of the Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum – “KPU”) of South Tangerang Selatan, Bambang Dwitoro, because of COVID-19. He was a hard worker, highly persistent and dedicated to the preparation for successful Regional Elections in South Tangerang. He and his staff succeeded in their plan as the Elections went off more or less according to plan at 2,963 voting sites (Tempat Pemungutan Suara – “TPS”) throughout the city. His passing is a hard blow for all of us – one that forces us to reflect on the all-too-real risk faced by officials, contestants, and voters when we organize Regional Elections amid a Coronavirus pandemic. Data from LaporCOVID-19, a citizen’s coalition working for data transparency and accuracy to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia, shows that on 6 December 2020, there were 76 Candidate Regional Heads and Candidate Vice Regional Heads who were diagnosed as infected by COVID-19. Four of them died before the elections, the latest being Malkan Amin, Candidate Regent for the Regency of Barru, who died on the very day of the Regional Elections after treatment for the disease.
KPU and the Election Supervisory Agency (Badan Pengawas Pemilihan Umum – “Bawaslu”) have done their utmost to protect officials and avoid the creation of new Coronavirus infection clusters. They have provided standard protective devices for electoral officials. Apart from having set up health protocols for servicing voters, they also oblige officials from the Election Organizer Group (Kelompok Penyelenggara Pemungutan Suara – “KPPS”) and TPS monitoring officials to take COVID-19 rapid test before they discharge of their duties at the TPS. Those who react as positive are taken off duty and replaced by other qualified persons.
However, testing facilities are no longer available to officials after the Elections, even though it is precisely on voting day that they interact massively with the tens of millions of voters in 298,852 TPS throughout Indonesia. Each TPS must deal with tens to hundreds of voters on Election Day. Even though health protocols are in place, implementation in the field surely faces many deviations and challenges that require risk anticipation and minimizing efforts. This is crucial, as other countries that held elections during the pandemic saw a jump in COVID-19 cases. For example, France was forced to delay the second round of its local elections after an increase in COVID-19 cases in the first, March 2020, round. Similarly, the United States recorded their highest level of new COVID-19 cases after elections on 3 November. We need to learn our lesson and avoid suffering the same fate.
Risk in Euphoria
Therefore, post-electoral risk management is a necessity. So far, risk management efforts announced to the public only relate to preventing the spread of Coronavirus during Regional Elections, while there is no open scheme on how to anticipate and mitigate possible new COVID-19 infection clusters associated with electoral activities. The KPU, as the authority organizing the elections, need to encourage the Government to come up with the best strategies and work plans to anticipate possible risk after Election Day.
Post-Regional Election risk management includes guidance as to what to do to control any outbreak of the disease among citizens and officials after the Elections, and who will be responsible for it. Further COVID-19 infections may occur during the election proper, the vote count, and vote summarizing. What facilities will be provided by the State for officials who caught COVID-19 due to their participation in the Regional Elections? How will KPU, Bawaslu, Central Government, Regional Governments, and COVID-19 Mitigation Task Force coordinate their efforts to respond to the post-Regional Election risk?
Even though everyone is in a euphoria from having successfully organized one of the biggest elections in the world during a pandemic, we cannot afford to neglect risk management. We must not avoid taking necessary action just because they feel that it will risk the Government’s reputation of having successfully carried out Regional Elections during the pandemic. On the contrary! As an expression of its commitment to a healthy democracy, the State must be fully present and responsible for the people’s health and safety.
Therefore, the Government should have transparent and measured policies in place that describe the State’s program for mitigating post-election risks, including the capability of the State’s authority to deal with a potential worst-case scenario: the occurrence of multiple new Regional Elections infection clusters throughout the country. How will KPU respond as an institution? How ready are Regional Governments and the COVID-19 to respond to possible catastrophes? What should officials and voters do if they find themselves infected by the disease because of their participation in the Elections? What compensation and protection can they get for their health and safety? The risk management plan will guide relevant authorities so that they do not panic, are better prepared, and more alert in their anticipation.
For the first concrete step, risk management can be performed by testing the officials who worked under high-risk conditions during the elections. Poor Bambang Dwitoro who died the good death for the risk he took to get the Regional Elections organized during the Coronavirus pandemic will ideally be the only one. May his nation continue to recall his struggles and dedication, and may they find that the complex, risky, and highly-fought 2020 Regional Elections will not come to naught. Wallahualam, only Allah knows for sure.