Indonesia’s civil society questions election integrity

The three-day cooling period to end months of election campaigning has been anything but quiet with civil society protesting ethics violations.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


A General Elections Commission (KPU) official checks a presidential election ballot at the logistics warehouse at Cempaka Putih Sports Hall in Central Jakarta on Feb. 5, 2024. PHOTO: Antara/The JAKARTA POST

February 13, 2024

JAKARTA – Concerns over unfair elections continued apace among civil society and academic circles on Tuesday, marked by protests over perceived democratic backsliding and state interference, just two days before nearly 205 million registered Indonesians head to the polls.

The three-day cooling period to end months of election campaigning has been anything but quiet, with the three-horse race marred by ethics breaches as well as allegations of foul play and meddling at the highest level.

In Yogyakarta, thousands of university students gathered to stage a long march from the city’s Gadjah Mada University (UGM) to a famous three-way intersection on Jl. Gejayan, which was the site of numerous student-led rallies during the 1998 New Order demonstrations.

The movement, called Gejayan Memanggil (Gejayan Calling), has sought to address outgoing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s perceived lack of impartiality.

Constitutionally barred from running for a third term, Jokowi and his political allies in government have faced accusations of misusing state powers to marshal support for election front-runner Prabowo Subianto, a former rival who was paired with the President’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka despite a controversial court ruling.

“Foul play in the 2024 general election must be faced with stern opposition, since it is clear it has been orchestrated by Jokowi and is being done systematically and on a massive scale,” the protest’s organizers stated in an Instagram post on Sunday rallying for a demonstration.

Various local media reported similar protests being held in front of the Central Java governor’s field office in Semarang on Monday, as well as in Tasikmalaya in West Java and Ambon, Maluku.

Prior to that, student activists from the University of Indonesia demonstrated in front of the General Elections Commission’s (KPU) Central Jakarta branch office on Friday, while a host of students from Trisakti University and the Veteran University of National Development rallied in front of the Presidential Palace on Wednesday.

These protests followed a larger trend of academics and activists calling for a fair and transparent election.

On the first day of the quiet period on Sunday, filmmaker and investigative journalist Dandhy Laksono released a documentary detailing the ways the Jokowi administration has “harmed democracy” by making use of state resources and powers for political gain.

The movie, Dirty Vote, has been viewed 5.3 million times as of Monday, garnering praise as well as criticism.

At the same time, counter-movements have begun to emerge, including a student rally in Central Jakarta on Monday.

Members of the three rival camps have called for peace and order ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Eager voters

While the unrest seems to have spread as voting day nears, a Monday survey by the research arm of the Kompas daily found that enthusiasm about the election remained high.

The survey, which interviewed 510 respondents between Jan. 29 and Feb. 2, found that 96.4 percent of people expressed an eagerness to cast their vote on Feb. 14. Another 2.5 percent said they would likely abstain, while the remaining 1.1 percent were undecided or unwilling to say.

Over 64 percent of people surveyed said that they had already made up their minds about who to vote for between presidential hopefuls Anies Baswedan, Prabowo and Ganjar Pranowo, as well as which political parties they would be backing to enter the legislature.

Around 16 percent of respondents said they knew only their preferences for the presidential election, while the rest suggested they were either still mulling over their choices or that they did know which candidate or party to choose.

Polling stations at risk

The 2024 elections will see a majority of younger voters exercise their democratic right to elect new government leaders, regional representatives and local councilors.

Turnout since the first direct presidential election in 2004 has never surpassed the 90 percent mark. In 2019, when Jokowi won reelection against Prabowo, voters turned out in record numbers – close to 82 percent – though even those results have been called into question recently.

The Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has flagged hundreds of thousands of polling stations that it considers at risk of meddling on voting day.

The election watchdog found them to be especially susceptible to inflated voter numbers, with over 125,000 polling stations recording ineligible voters such as deceased individuals, as well as members of the police and military, who are legally barred from voting.

In terms of security and logistical threats, Bawaslu found that around 36,000 polling stations had no access to the internet, which could pose an issue if the election results are being tallied using electronic methods. The KPU insists it will use offline methods for canvassing.

Close to 22,000 polling stations are also known to be located near the basecamp or headquarters of one of the three election tickets, the agency said, making them especially prone to mobilized intimidation or meddling.

Meanwhile, some 10,000 polling stations are situated in areas prone to natural disasters, including floods, landslides and earthquakes, which has already proved challenging for one of the world’s most complex single-day elections.

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