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.
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 pguntensper...@yahoo.ca
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