Indonesia’s election monitors are paying close attention to West Java, the country’s most populous province, a week before presidential and parliamentary elections amid concerns of vote buying and intimidation, officials said Wednesday.
Indonesians will go to the polls on April 17 to elect a president and members of parliament at national, provincial and municipal levels. It will be the first time the presidential and parliamentary elections are held on the same day.
Incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will face former general Prabowo Subianto in a repeat of the 2014 presidential election.
Home to nearly 33 million eligible voters, West Java came third in an election vulnerability index released by the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on Tuesday. It trailed the rebellious province of Papua and the central Java province of Yogyakarta, which together represent about 6 million voters, less than one-fifth of West Java’s total.
Bawaslu said West Java is vulnerable to threats to free and fair elections such as voter intimidation, campaign disruptions and vote buying.
“Because of the large number of voters, political parties and presidential candidates are fighting tooth and nail in West Java,” Bawaslu commissioner Mochammad Afifuddin said.
“The potential for problems is real,” he told BenarNews.
Afifuddin did not provide details of such violations in West Java but said the index took into accounts events dating back to a year ago.
Nationally, the vulnerability index is moderate, but slightly increased from September 2018.
Bawaslu’s head of enforcement in West Java, Sutarno, said vote buying was a major concern. The agency has taken action on cases of vote buying and two cases have been brought to trial.
“We have received many reports (of vote buying). We have been conducting investigations,” Sutarno was quoted as saying by the local news website Ayobandung.com.
Last year in preparation for the 2019 vote, the national police put West Java on the list of top areas vulnerable to electoral disruptions, including threats to security and public order.
Starting in 2016, the province saw a series of massive anti-government rallies by conservative Muslims, including protests against alleged blasphemy by the then-governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.
The next year brought a standoff between a terrorist suspect and police in Bandung, the provincial capital.
Despite the report, Jokowi chief of staff Moeldoko sought to allay any concern about security.
“All are committed to holding safe elections. The police and security forces are on guard in anticipation of troubles,” Moeldoko said.
‘Any means necessary’
The executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), Titi Anggraini, said she is concerned the election will not be entirely free of vote buying.
“The candidates, especially those running for parliament, are pragmatic. The most important thing for them is to win, by any means necessary,” Titi told BenarNews.
Last month, a legislative candidate from the Golkar Party in Central Java, Bowo Sidik Pangarso, was arrested by investigators from the Corruption Eradication Commission on suspicion of vote buying.
Investigators said they seized 8 billion rupiah ($565,000) from Bowo. Cash in hundreds of envelopes allegedly was to be distributed at dawn on election day, a practice known as “dawn attacks.”
“That is proof that the general election will be marred by the practice of vote buying,” Titi said.
A researcher at Indonesia Corruption Watch, Almas Sjafrina said poor political education among the electorate is making it hard to eradicate vote buying.
“The recruitment of political candidates is opaque and not transparent, with little attention paid to candidates’ track records,” Almas said.
Burhanuddin Muhtadi, a pollster and lecturer at Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, wrote last year that the practice of handing out cash or items to influence voters is pervasive in Indonesia.
“My Ph.D research found that as many as one in three Indonesians was personally exposed to the practice in the previous national election. That would put Indonesia in third place on the list of countries with the most vote-buying practices,” he wrote on Conversation.com.