To vote or not to vote: Talk of ‘golput’ resurfaces ahead of 2024 race

Historically, golput, or abstaining from voting, as a term and movement started in 1971 as a statement of protest against president Soeharto’s oppressive regime in the New Order era.

Radhiyya Indra

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post


Three young people have their electronic identification cards (e-KTP) made while South Sulawesi’s acting governor Bahtiar Baharuddin (fourth left) looks on, during an inspection of a local government facility in Luwu, South Sulawesi on Nov. 5, 2023. PHOTO: ANTARA/ THE JAKARTA POST

November 13, 2023

JAKARTA – Hearing about his friends not wanting to vote in next year’s election made Kurniawan, a 50-year-old freelance editor from Bandung, West Java, scoff.

“Not voting is just succumbing to your own ego,” he told The Jakarta Post on Oct. 26. “Trust me, a presidential election is way too big for nonvoters to make a dent.”

With the 2024 presidential candidates announced and the final list of legislative election contenders just issued, the public debate about abstaining from voting, known in the country as golput, has inevitably resurfaced.

On social media, users who have voiced their pessimism over the outlook of the electoral contest or Indonesia’s democracy in general say they will abstain.

“Better for me to just [go] golput in 2024. None of the candidates are good,” @anneliezee said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Oct. 30.

However, for every post that suggests apathy toward the elections, there is a wave of users encouraging people to exercise their right to vote. Many express that regardless of the disdain some voters may have for all candidates, every vote still counts, now perhaps more than ever.

“Please don’t abstain from voting in 2024, friends. Our votes are vital in shaping Indonesia’s future,” X user @faisaladw8 tweeted on Oct. 28.

To abstain is not a crime, but anyone promising any form of gratuity to someone, as motivation to abstain from voting or deliberately spoiling their ballot paper, can face a prison sentence of up to three years and a maximum fine of Rp 36 million (US$2,272), as stipulated in Article 515 of the 2017 Elections Law.

Read also: Competitive three-horse race takes shape as Prabowo-Gibran register

Historically, golput as a term and movement started in 1971 as a statement of protest against president Soeharto’s oppressive regime in the New Order era. It is an acronym for golongan putih (white group), which denotes an unwillingness to fly the colored flags of election campaigns.

The last two elections had seen the golput movement emerge from a dilemma, with voters refusing to choose between “the lesser of two evils”. The polarizing political climate in the 2019 elections even gave rise to an abstention campaign called Saya Golput (I Abstain) that took social media by storm.

Everyone counts

The candidates of the 2024 general election, slated for Feb. 14, 2024, have announced their bids. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan are contesting the presidency and turning to first-time and young voters to get them into high office.

People aged 40 and under, who consume most of their information online, will make up a majority of voters next year, the General Elections Commission (KPU) has said.

Read also: Gen Z, millennials comprise majority of 2024 voters

Social media users have started sharing their reasons to forgo voting next year, from human rights controversies and dynastic politics to corruption in political parties. And some may have personal reasons for going golput.

Afia, a 25-year-old start-up employee in Jakarta, does not plan to vote next year. She abstained in the presidential and legislative elections in 2019 because she had “lost faith in the country’s democratic system”.

“By their talk and mission statements, each candidate appears to be good and has measured goals. But honestly speaking, as a lower middle-class citizen stuck in a sandwich generation, I don’t think the election result will have any significant impact on my life,” she told the Post on Oct. 26.

But pro-voting voices have continued to grow louder upon the realization that the future of the younger generation will be decided by the next government. Many voters who abstained in 2019 are thus looking forward to voting in 2024.

“This election is exciting. Unlike the previous one, there are three candidates now,” Ahmad Faathir, a 24-year-old private sector employee, told the Post on Oct. 31.

He chose to abstain in 2019 since he was “unimpressed” with both presidential candidates at the time. But with the current contest, he has changed his mind greatly.

“Casting our vote is a form of responsibility as a citizen toward our country, after all,” he said.

Bigger turnout predicted

Despite talk of abstention reemerging, analysts suggest the 2024 elections will have fewer people going golput.

Firman Noor, a senior political researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), believes the three-horse race factors into it.

“Because there are three differing opinion platforms, logically, it should cover more voter aspirations. You’ve got the pro-government one, the opposition and the one in between, for example,” he told the Post on Oct. 31.

Though still an assumption, Firman thinks that three candidate pairings should mean that the number of voters will be higher than in previous elections.

Read also: Candidates embrace ‘happy politics’ in search of peaceful election

The Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) election watchdog agrees, with its operators noting that the 2019 election had a higher voter turnout than in 2014.

“Voter turnout in the 2014 election was 75 percent, then in the 2019 election it was 81 percent. Several surveys also show that people want to go to the polling stations,” Perludem executive director Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati told the Post on Oct. 31. “Even in the 2020 regional elections during COVID-19, the participation rate in the simultaneous elections was also quite high.”

Data from Statistics Indonesia (BPS) last year showed that the number of nonvoters in the 2019 election decreased drastically to just 18.03 percent from 30.22 percent in 2014.

Technically speaking, the simultaneous holding of both legislative and presidential elections is one of the incentives for the public to go to the polling booths, Khoirunnisa said. This is why she believes the voter turnout rate in 2024 will also be quite high.

“Unlike in other countries, such as Australia, voting in Indonesia is not compulsory. It is a citizen’s right. And because each of us only has one vote, we need to use it as wisely as possible,” she said, urging everyone to vote nonetheless.

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