Apr 3, 2009 

 Fraud threat clouds Indonesian polls 
By Patrick Guntensperger 

JAKARTA - There is a rising risk that Indonesia's next elected government will 
face an immediate legitimacy crisis if mounting complaints about manipulation 
of official voters' lists are challenged by losing parties and candidates. That 
contentious prospect threatens to make next week's legislative and July's 
presidential polls the rockiest of the country's decade-old democratic era. 

Recent revelations that 27% of the names on the official voters' list were 
fraudulent in the November 2008 gubernatorial elections in East Java province 
have cast a shadow over hopes for a smooth democratic transition at the polls. 
Police investigators in the pivotal province determined that of the 1.2 million 
names on the official voters' list, over 345,000 were underage, fictitious, 
dead or otherwise ineligible to cast ballots. 

Investigators have claimed that the scale and pattern of error could not be 
attributed to computer glitches or software inadequacies, as originally 
postulated by election officials, but were rather the result of systematic 
human intervention. Indonesia's Independent Election Supervisory Committee 
(KIPP) and the Indonesian Voters Committee (KPI) have also alleged high-level 
fraud and manipulation of lists for political purposes. 

The government has attempted to deflect those criticisms. Home Minister 
Mardianto has insisted that the East Java controversy was caused more by 
incompetence than any deliberate attempt to influence the election result. He 
however hedged by saying "the fixed list of eligible voters doesn't fall within 
the government's authority", and suggested instead that the list was the 
responsibility of the General Elections Commission (KPU). 

For its part, the KPU has said it is only a user of the voters' list and 
refused to release documents, open records or even speak to investigators 
looking into the alleged fraud. Despite the seriousness of the allegations, the 
national police in Jakarta have failed to upgrade the inquiry to a higher-level 
criminal investigation, which means probing officials lack the authority to 
compel compliance, subpoena records, summon witnesses or interrogate suspects 
in the case. 

They have rather had to rely on the voluntary cooperation of the very people 
being investigated. Even so, local police have pieced together a complex and 
extremely sensitive case by sifting in their capacity as ordinary citizens 
through reams of misfiled documents, missing records and government departments 
that lack accountability. 

In the absence of KPU cooperation, and in light of Jakarta's insistence that 
more evidence is needed before it will give the police authority to seek more 
evidence, the KIPP and KPI, as well as independent international election 
watchdogs, have been left to pursue the matter with a minimum of government 

KIPP secretary general Muchtar Sindong believes that high-level fraud was 
committed during the East Java gubernatorial elections, asserting that only 
upper echelon officials had the necessary access to manipulate the voters' 
list. That, he and others argue, could have huge implications for the 
legislative and presidential polls, where the democratic stakes will be 
national rather than local in scope. 

"I think the East Java gubernatorial election fraud was a pilot project to test 
their ability and they will bring this to full effect in the coming election," 
he was quoted saying in The Jakarta Post newspaper, without identifying the 
alleged culprits. No suspects have been named by investigators into the 
apparent electoral fraud. 

The silence has been influenced by the recent trend towards litigiousness among 
political parties and their high-ranking members. Lawsuits are routinely filed 
by anyone who feels the slightest bit offended by a statement or observation 
made publicly, and it is widely believed that cases in court are often decided 
in favor of the party or politician with the deepest pockets. 
Although gubernatorial candidates technically run as independents, the winner 
at the East Java polls, and apparent beneficiary of any electoral 
irregularities, was Dr H Soekarwo, who is believed to have ties to the 
heavyweight Golkar and the Democratic parties. His opponent, Khofifah 
Indarparawansa, has amid the fraud charges filed a lawsuit challenging the 
validity of the election. 

Electoral skepticism
With similar questions swirling around the validity of the much larger voters' 
list for next week's legislative elections, the KPU continues to claim that the 
lists are accurate and complete. These claims, particularly when uttered in 
conjunction with the KPU's protestations that it is merely a "user of the 
list", however are being greeted with growing skepticism. 

Concerns about the elections have also risen from new regulations intended to 
streamline Indonesian politics by reducing the number of national political 
parties in parliament. Currently, 38 different parties are to contest the 
legislative polls. Parties will need to notch 2.5% of the popular vote for 
their winning candidates to actually take their seats in parliament. 

That means many voters will cast their ballots for candidates and parties that 
fail to reach the percentage threshold, leaving a significant percentage of the 
population unrepresented in the legislature. Preliminary polls suggest that the 
country's three main parties - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democrat 
Party, Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle and the 
military-linked Golkar - will garner around 50% of the vote. 
That leaves the other 35 parties to scramble for the remaining half of the 
national electorate. Because only eight or nine parties are expected to meet 
the 2.5% threshold, the incentive for fraud is high. Added to the cut and 
thrust are growing questions about the KPU's capability to efficiently deliver 
ballots to polling stations, confusion over regulations governing improperly 
marked ballots, and a history of graft in the awarding of contracts for 
election logistical support. 

Some political analysts predict a flurry of lawsuits and demands for a 
nationwide recount, or even revote, to be lodged by losing legislative 
candidates in protest against invalid voters' lists. With a precedent for 
government inaction set at the East Java gubernatorial polls, others believe 
the situation could devolve towards full-blown violence if the state is 
perceived to be directly involved or deliberately covering up election fraud. 

Northwestern University political science professor and renowned Indonesia 
expert Jeffrey Winters said at a recent press event in Jakarta that it is 
possible voter disenchantment will erupt into widespread violence after the 
legislative polls. To back up that claim, he quoted a senior Golkar party 
official who recently predicted outbreaks of violence from the voting public in 
response to claims the democratic process had been manipulated. 

With the government reluctant to address the problem and the relevant officials 
refusing to accept accountability for the fraud allegations raised at the East 
Java polls, Indonesia's next installed government could in the eyes of voters 
lack democratic legitimacy. That threat augurs ill for a country that has 
recently won widespread praise for its move towards democracy, but clearly 
still has a long way to go to consolidate those gains. 

Patrick Guntensperger is a Jakarta-based freelance journalist and political and 
social commentator. He lectures in journalism and communications at several 
universities and is a consultant in communications and corporate social 
responsibility. He may be reached at 

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