July 3, 2023JAKARTA – Unofficial campaigning for next year’s general election is well underway, as policymakers refuse to close the loopholes that allow prospective candidates to campaign outside of the designated period. The campaign season will officially begin in late November but billboards featuring three prominent aspirants for the country’s top office, Prabowo Subianto, Ganjar Pranowo and Anies Badwedan, have appeared in several rural parts of the country, such as Central Java, East Java and Sumatra, in the past few months. The three presumptive presidential nominees have also in recent months embarked on unofficial campaign trails to gauge and attract support, undertaking activities that range from blusukan (impromptu visits) to local markets to greeting supporters in rally-like events and making appearances at local mosques. The intensifying political touring carried by the three presidential nominees has prompted debate over whether they are undertaking unlawful early campaigning. One such allegation emerged earlier this year when a local resident reported Anies to the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), accusing him of carrying out a covert campaign when he signed two petitions supporting his presidential bid at Baiturrahman mosque in Aceh’s capital of Banda Aceh. While Bawaslu had ruled that it found that Anies had not committed any administrative violations, the report has prompted debates over where to draw the line between campaigning outside of the designated period that is not allowed under prevailing rules and outreach activities that are deemed legitimate. In response to such public concerns, the General Elections Commission (KPU) and Bawaslu assembled a team to draft a new regulation further detailing technicalities on how political parties hold outreach programs to promote themselves during the pre-campaign period. But this was met with resistance from lawmakers of House of Representatives’ Commission II overseeing home affairs. The KPU and Bawaslu eventually dropped the plan in February, saying that the prevailing KPU regulation No. 33/2018 on election campaigns had provided enough guidelines on outreach programs. Article 25 of the regulation explicitly prohibits political parties contesting the general election from campaigning in public spaces and on social media, including spreading campaign materials that feature their images and their unique numbers on the ballot, before the official campaign season starts. The same article allows political parties to carry out outreach programs to improve political literacy that is strictly targeted toward internal party members. The programs can include installing parties’ flags and their election numbers and hosting internal campaign events. However, it does not say anything about such outreach activities carried out in the broader sphere, such as public spaces. The regulation also fails to address outreach activities by prospective and registered legislative and presidential candidates prior to the 75-day campaign season that will start on Nov. 28, raising more questions over how Bawaslu should decide whether candidates have committed any administrative violations. Asked recently whether presidential aspirants had carried out unlawful campaigning when embarking on political visits, KPU chairman Hasyim Asy’ari stressed that only registered presidential candidates would be the subject to such violations. “We do not have any registered presidential candidates yet. The registration is in October [this year]. So, these people are still ordinary citizens in the eyes of the KPU […],” Hasyim said last week, referring to the presidential candidate registration that is planned to open on Oct. 19 until Nov. 25. Election activist groups such as the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) have noted that the loose regulation on what constitutes outreach activities outside of the campaign period only provided more room for candidates seeking to avoid being held accountable. A shorter campaign period of 75 days introduced by the KPU for the upcoming elections has also led to a longer time frame between the announcement of verified political parties in December last year and the start of the campaign season in November this year, Perludem said. “This has resulted in many gray areas due to the unclear legal status of presidential and legislative candidates prior to the campaign period,” Perludem executive director Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. Taking a bolder move by drafting a more thorough regulation on outreach programs carries its own risk, said Aditya Perdana, lecturer at the University of Indonesia’s Center for Political Studies (Puskapol UI). “The KPU seemed to be playing it safe because taking a more proactive and progressive move, such as regulating outreach programs in a new KPU regulation could backfire,” Aditya said. “The existing general election law does not recognize ‘outreaching’ and only stipulates ‘campaigning’. Political parties not liking the KPU’s move regulating outreach activities could accuse the KPU of violating the law,” Aditya added.