Partyforumseasia: According to the World Population Report, Indonesia’s capital has more than ten million inhabitants. The local media count more than seven million eligible voters for the second round of the gubernatorial election which has started this morning, Wednesday, 19th April. In the early afternoon, private polls report a small lead for the former education minister Anies Baswedan over incumbant Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or “Ahok”. Ahok was considered to win the election easily after taking over from president Jokowi after the latter moved to the presidential palace in 2014. Ahok was known as a decisive administrator, cleaning up the mega-city in many ways, but somewhat arrogant and brash which does not go well with the traditional Javanese politeness. But the decisive setback was the lawsuit for blasphemy under Articles 156 and 156a of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) , started by his enemies. In September 2016, Ahok had discounted claims that the Quran forbids the election of Christians and Jews to public office, and Ahok is in a double minority role as ethnic Chinese and Christian. Since the case is still pending, Ahok faced a severe handicap in his campaign, though his efficiency as governor has kept him a strong following. But the controversy and the huge rallies organized by powerful conservative Muslim organizations have divided the Jakarta electorate, so that the voter turnout today is expected to exceed the 77% of the first round in February. Security measures are tight, under the threat of Muslim zealots intimidating Muslim Ahok supporters, more than 60,000 policemen are deployed around the polling centers.
Beside the outburst of religious sentiments on an unprecedented level, the religious parties being not too successful otherwise, this election is also highlighting other peculiarities in the dynamic political development of Indonesia’s democracy . Like in most countries in Southeast Asia, money politics and vote buying are rather common. The Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has warned against smear campaigns and vote-buying attempts, while numerous such violations are already under investigation. For the poorer voters it can start with staple food donations which are disguised as religious alms giving, but money is changing hands as well, and the manipulation attempts can reach practically all the 13, 034 polling stations.
The Indonesian Corruption Watch, many NGO’s, and of course the political parties behind the candidates, try to monitor the election process and have set up hotlines for reports by the public. Final and official results are not expected before end of the month.
Partyforumseasia: Political scientists as well as poor political parties tend to criticize money politics and its growing impact on election outcomes. Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia have been blamed for ever increasing campaign costs due to vote buying, candidate buying or expensive programs in favor of special voter groups. Whether they are in good company is certainly debatable, but the international trend is not going towards cheaper campaigns and level playing fields.
As one political leader from the Philippines once defined the golden rule: Who has the gold rules.
The United States of America are probably far ahead in this development. According to the Washington Post of 26 January 2015 (Link here), Republicans and Democrats are expected to spend one billion $ (1.000.000.000 $) each in the 2016 election:
“ A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
The massive financial goal was revealed to donors during an annual winter meeting here hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and cements the network’s role as one of the country’s most potent political forces.”
Partyforumseasia: With 240 million inhabitants, more than 13,000 islands, 300 native ethnic groups and 742 languages and dialects, stretching 5,000 km East to West, Indonesia’s national motto sounds suitable but difficult to achieve: “Unity in diversity“. By many different standards and criteria, the country may be the world champion in complexity. No wonder that the organization of Indonesia’s democratic system and elections is extremely complex as well. Like in many Southeast Asian countries money politics and vote-buying are far from unknown, on the contrary. Since the beginning of the democratic era after the fall of authoritarian President Suharto, huge amounts of money have been spent for securing a seat in parliament or other public office. Years ago already, the necessary budget for winning the governorship in an average province has been estimated at the equivalent of ten million USD!
Beside the development of an increasingly professional polling industry, demand has created rather professional jobs for people who know their constituency and the people living in it. They can tell the candidate who they decide to work for – and who can pay them – how many voters they can mobilize for her or him. What is mostly being done in other democracies in Europe by active party members, namely canvassing from street to street and door to door, has developed into a respectable profession in Indonesia.
While being realistic about the extent of direct vote-buying, Ulla Fionna from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, has just published a fascinating insight into this flourishing business. Read in detail how these field coordinators (in Indonesian “koordinator lapangan” or “korlap” in the short form) have been instrumental in the 9 April elections:
Link: Vote-buying in Indonesia’s 2014 Elections: The Other Side of the Coin
Partyforumseasia: Transition of power is not a particularly characteristic political feature in Southeast Asia, and even less so for Malaysia. The continuing influence of former long-term Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the “culling” (by a another dubious sodomy conviction) of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim before he threatened to win the governorship of the country’s most important federal state in March are two examples. The third scandalous case in point is located in Sarawak, the huge East Malaysian federal state on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo).
After thirty-three (33!) years as Chief Minister in this resource rich state with a poor population, Tan Sri (a Malaysian title) Taib Mahmud steps down at the age of 77 on Friday 28 February, only to be sworn in as governor of the same federal state a day later, on 1 March. The succession is “very orderly” and also safe for the retiree, the new Chief Minister being a loyalist of the old one and a former brother in law. And it is nearly close to bringing in new blood, the successor is 70 years young…
It looks more than probable that Taib Mahmood had a lot of good reasons to protect his “retirement” so carefully. He has been attacked as one of the most corrupt politicians in the region, his personal assets being openly estimated at 15 billion $, that of his extended family at over 21! After his three decades at the helm and being responsible for all logging and land related issues, only 5% of Sarawak’s original rain forests are still untouched, but threatened by Taib’s blueprint for the next level of “development”.
See more details in Luke Hunt’s analysis in the (link here) The Diplomat
Godfather Taib’s role on the federal level was also important and has contributed to his long-term hold on power: He practically guaranteed Sarawak’s usefulness as a fixed deposit vote bank for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). Without his contribution of 25 federal parliamentary seats in 2013 the BN had lost an election which it won with a minority of the popular vote, heavy gerrymandering and … Sarawak. But increasing accusations for corruption have made Taib a growing liability as well, so an “orderly transition of power” had become necessary.
Partyforumseasia: Jon S.T.Quah has chosen a very telling title for his new book, published by ISEAS, Singapore, this year: “Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries. An Impossible Dream?” The latest political corruption scandal in Indonesia seems to underline the impossibility of the dream. Too much money is at stake, too costly are the election campaigns, too greedy the political players, and too toothless the anti-corruption programs of the government.
The Golkar Party seems to be especially vulnerable after rolling in money for decades as the main political instrument of president Suharto who was more than well known for the corrupt practices of his extended family. Indonesia expert Marcus Mietzner* from Sidney University reports that Suharto withheld 100 million US$ from Golkar party funds after his fall in 1998. This gives an idea of the financial dimensions the party was used to.
But Suharto also urged his cronies not to show their wealth with too flashy villas. This advice has obviously been forgotten by Banten governor Ms Ratu Atut and her billionaire family empire. If being known for their collection of Maseratis and Lamborghinis alone was incautious, a direct involvement of the clan in the bribery scandal around the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is a graver political mistake. Madam governor’s youngest brother is accused of offering 1 b Rupiah (about 92,000 US$) to the judge for a favorable decision in an election dispute. A number of Ms Ratu Atut’s close relatives are mayors or district chiefs in Banten province close to Jakarta…And Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, himself one of the richest businessmen in Indonesia, is being quoted as saying that the problem is not the political dynasty!
*Mietzner, Marcus (2007), Party Financing in Post-Soeharto Indonesia: Between State Subsidies and Political Corruption, in: Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 29, No. 2:241