Non-voters Emerge as a Factor in Indonesian Election

Tia Asmara and Ahmad Syamsudin
190405_ID_Golput1_620.jpeg Three activists from an Indonesian group calling itself the Civil Society Coalition hold up messages saying “Golput (abstaining from voting) is not a crime,” during a press conference in Jakarta, Jan. 23, 2019.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

Lini Zurlia received a torrent of abuse, as well as support, after posting a photograph of herself on Twitter holding a small sign that read “Saya golput” – a declaration of her intention not to vote in Indonesia’s upcoming presidential election.

The tweet has turned the 31-year-old self-described queer feminist activist into an icon of the Indonesian golput movement, which literally means “white group” but refers to people who choose to abstain from voting mainly because of their disenchantment with the candidates and political parties.

Her message, posted on March 28, drew nearly 2,200 likes and 1,500 retweets. But it did not sit well with supporters of incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, she said.

“I was called crazy, ugly, stupid and other names,” the bespectacled Lini told BenarNews.

Proponents of voting abstention say they hope that at least 12 percent of Indonesia’s 192 million registered voters (see video) will opt not to vote in the presidential and legislative elections scheduled to take place simultaneously on April 17.

The percentage of eligible voters who have not voted has increased steadily, from 23 percent in 2004, when the country’s first direct presidential election was held, to 30 percent in 2014, according to the Indonesian electoral commission.

And according to a recent survey, as many as 30 percent of respondents said they planned “to golput” in this year’s election, the Straits Times, a Singaporean newspaper, reported this week.

President Joko will face former army general Prabowo Subianto in the April 17 election, in a repeat of the 2014 polls that Jokowi narrowly won.

Some of those Indonesians who have pledged to be non-voters supported Jokowi in the 2014 race, but say they have grown disillusioned with what they see as his failure to keep campaign promises.

These include solving past human rights cases, improving economic growth and promoting pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, which only transitioned to a democracy 21 years ago after the fall of President Suharto, a longtime dictator.

Human rights activists say Jokowi has yet to take meaningful action to resolve past rights cases and has shown authoritarian tendencies with what some say his government’s politicization of law enforcement.

Critics said that Jokowi had also failed to step growing religious and ethnic intolerance.

Prabowo, for his part, has a poor human rights record as a commander of the army’s special forces in the 1990s. He was accused of kidnapping several pro-democracy activists in the dying days of the Suharto rule in 1998. He has denied the allegations.

Lini is among the disappointed ex-backers of Jokowi. Lini said she voted for Jokowi in 2014 because he was an outsider, and did not come from the country’s military and political elite.

“But after he was elected, he has not been firm and made good on his promises,” she said.



In the run-up to the polls, the hashtag #SayaGolput – which also accompanied Lini’s tweet – has generated an online debate in Indonesia among those citizens who are eligible to vote but choose to abstain, versus others who criticize people who opt not to vote, according to media reports.

Arip Yogjawan, a leader of the Civil Society Coalition, a grassroots group that says Indonesians have a right to abstain from voting or to cast blank ballots, claimed that non voters had been threatened directly or indirectly because of their views on the issue.

In January, the Legal Aid Institute (LBH), a human rights group, held a press conference to declare that Indonesians had the right to abstain from voting, in response to statements made on social media that campaigning for abstention was illegal.

“Choosing to abstain is not a crime. It’s a legitimate political expression,” LBH director Arief Maulana said.

However, government officials, namely security minister Wiranto, have warned that people who try to persuade others not to vote through online campaigns can be charged under the draconian electronic information law. Wiranto had earlier suggested that anyone who spread rumors that there would be unrest on election day could be charged under terrorism laws.

“We urge people not to abstain from voting. Come on to the polling stations. It is safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the nation’s top Muslim clerical and scholarly body, has said that voting is an obligation for Muslims if there is a suitable candidate, citing a fatwa issued by the council in 2014.

“Choosing a leader is part of religious obligations to guarantee public welfare,” the secretary of MUI’s fatwa commission, Asrorun Ni’am Sholeh, said late last month.

But Donal, a 43-year-old citizen, said he would not go the polls because he had no confidence in either of the two presidential candidates.

“The candidates are picked based on the flawed electoral system,” he said, referring the fact that no independent candidates are in the race.

“I want a president who is honest, firm and courageous. Both candidates don’t have those attributes,” he told BenarNews.

‘Always abstainers in every election’

Syamsudin Haris, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, predicted that the Golput movement would not make a dent on either camp in the election.

“They won’t have much of an impact because their number is not significant. There are always abstainers in every election,” he told BenarNews.

“People choose not to vote because they are not happy with the candidates or disappointed with the government’s performance, while the opposition has little to offer,” he said.

He said most voters had made up their minds about the preferred candidate.

“The government needs to be more persuasive to convince voters not to abstain,” he added.


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