Elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic threaten the voting rights of vulnerable groups. Election organizers must prepare special regulations to protect their voting rights.
Chairperson of the General Election Center for Disabled Access (PPUA PENCA), Ariani Soekanwo, is worried about the simultaneous regional elections in December 2020. According to him, the use of gloves as stated in the Covid-19 prevention protocol is not disability friendly, especially for those with visual disabilities.
"Others may be able to wear gloves, but if we (blind disabilities) are told to read braille, wear gloves, we can't," said Ariani when contacted by Jaring.id on Wednesday, August 19, 2020.
The use of disposable gloves by both voters and voting officers is regulated in Article 74 of the General Election Commission (PKPU) Regulation Number 6 of 2020 concerning Continuous Continuous Pilkada in Non-Natural Disaster Conditions Covid-19.
Although realizing that the purpose of the protocol is good, according to Ariani, wearing gloves will make it difficult for visually impaired persons to use voting tools. The tool for voting for visually impaired voters is in the form of embossed braille that can be read if you touch it with your finger. The design is the same as ballots, except that there are raised dots with a minimum height of 0.5 millimeters.
"We'll just use gloves clumsy, especially when asked to read, it's hard. Maybe enough hand sanitizer Just so you can read, "said the disability political rights fighter.
Apart from wearing gloves, even people with disabilities cannot do it. According to Ariani, persons with disabilities need someone's assistance when choosing. Moreover, the TPS built often neglects the accessibility for people with disabilities.
In the previous general elections, he said, the companions of voters with disabilities usually came from families or PPS officers trusted by voters. This is stated in Article 71 PKPU Number 6/2020. However, these rules only apply to those who have a temperature of 37.3 degrees Celsius.
Ariani suggested that people with disabilities should be accompanied by a household. The PPS officer carries out supervision. If you do not have a companion, the election officer can serve the voting in their respective homes. This needs to be done so that contact between officers and voters can be minimized.
For information, the 2020 regional elections will be held in 270 regions in Indonesia, covering 9 provinces, 224 districts and 37 cities. The number of voters with disabilities who will vote in the event reached 137,247 people.
Ariani assessed that data collection on voters with disabilities is still carried out carelessly. One of the things he highlighted was the unification of voters with visual and hearing disabilities into one category, namely data on sensory disabilities. The data should be separated, he said, so that organizers can prepare tools according to voter needs.
“One doesn't see and one doesn't hear. Those who don't see need a device that can be heard, if those who don't hear, they need a device that can be seen, "said Ariani.
KPU member, Viryan Aziz, stated that his party stuck to Law Number 8 of 2016 concerning Persons with Disabilities when categorizing voter data. The law divides disabilities into four categories, namely persons with physical disabilities, persons with intellectual and mental disabilities, and persons with sensory disabilities.
"KPU works according to existing laws. If the KPU works not according to the law, it is wrong, ”he told Jaring.id via text message on Monday, August 24, 2020.
In contrast to the 2019 Election, the KPU at that time classified voters with disabilities into five categories, namely disabled, blind, deaf / speechless, mental retardation and other disabilities. While in the 2020 simultaneous regional elections, the KPU changed the category through PKPU Updating Data and Compiling the Pilkada Voters List (Mutarlih).
Not only Indonesia
Indonesia is not the only country that held General Elections (Pemilu) during the Covid-19 pandemic. At least 45 other countries are holding elections this year. In Asia, countries that must vote include South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Burma.
Program Manager of the Asian Democratic Network, Soon Yoon Suh, stated that South Korea is a country that has successfully implemented health protocols and is able to guarantee the right to voice. Apart from preparing health protocols, South Korea provided various technological devices and internet networks during the campaign period. Even this country in eastern Asia does not hesitate to provide more funds to employ more field workers.
"South Korea also has the ability to employ people at polling stations and provide protective equipment for voters," said Soon when contacted on June 26, 2020.
Meanwhile, as far as 3400 kilometers from South Korea, a minority group in Rakhine, Burma is threatened with being unable to participate in the general elections on November 8, 2020. This is because the conflict between Myanmar government military forces and armed ethnic groups is getting worse.
Executive Director of the People Alliance for Credible Election (PACE) Myanmar, Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Mynt, expressed his concern over the discourse on postponing elections in Rakhine. He said that the delay had the potential to eliminate the voices of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. In the previous election, Sai said Rakhine was the seat of votes for the ethnic-based party, the Arakan National Party (ARP). The ARP party is the strongest challenger to the Democratic National League (NLD), which is commanded by the Head of the Government of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Rakhine is the only region where ethnic-based parties got a majority in 2015," Sai said during a Strenghthening Voters Role in Election Amid Pandemic discussion on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.
The Myanmar government, according to Sai, should be able to guarantee the safety and security of voters in Myanmar, especially for ethnic minorities. Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed the performance of the organizers, even the revision of a number of technical election regulations has not been implemented. He said, regulations related to health protocols to protect voters and election administrators have not been discussed.
"The Covid-19 situation in Myanmar is not that bad, but there are fears that a second wave will emerge with the opening of the route from Thailand," Sai added.
Meanwhile, Program Manager of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Adhy Aman, considered that the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting democracy, especially in relation to general elections in a number of countries. According to him, marginalized groups such as disabilities, women, immigrants, prisoners to ethnic minorities are not easy to vote.
"Voters with disabilities and voters with positive covid-19 patients in quarantine or in hospitals, will not be able to vote unless they are provided with access to vote," he said.
In order for each country to guarantee citizens' right to vote, election designs must be adapted to health protocols during a pandemic. According to him, election administrators and lawmakers need to mitigate the negative impact on vulnerable groups. Don't let them lose their voting rights at this year's democratic party.
The main thing that must be considered in order to maintain the health of vulnerable groups is rescheduling voting when the Covid-19 transmission curve slopes. A number of countries that have done this are Mongolia, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Sri Lanka. In addition to preventing the transmission of infection, it can also increase voter turnout.
To maintain the voting rights of vulnerable groups, Adhy reminded the election organizers and parties to provide adequate information. This information can be in the form of safe voting health protocols, access to the nearest polling station and candidate campaign materials.
"Election organizers must apply special voting procedures for vulnerable groups. Such as voting by post, voting early and mobile polling stations, "he said.
In Sri Lanka, according to Executive Director of The Asian Network for Free Elections Director (Anfrel), Chandanie Watawala, organizers and political parties rely on social media to reach out to voters. Whether it's through advertising campaigns on Facebook or Google. The increased use of social media, he said, succeeded in maintaining voter participation in Sri Lanka which was held on August 8.
"Even though it was carried out in a pandemic situation, voter turnout was quite high, around 75 percent. "We are approaching voter participation in normal parliamentary elections," he said.
Meanwhile, in areas where the internet is not yet available, direct campaigns can be conducted with limited participants. If the campaign is attended by party leaders, the maximum limit of participants is only 500 people. Meanwhile, the campaign without party leadership is limited to 300 people.
Alternative voting systems such as early elections have also been proposed by Sri Lanka's election organizers for voters in hospitals, the elderly, and voters abroad. However, the proposal pushed by election organizers and civil society was countered by the political party.
"We have seen one that increases voter participation in early elections, such as in South Korea, but in Sri Lanka we failed to do so," he explained.
Similar to Sri Lanka, Indonesia cannot implement other voting methods during a pandemic. This is because the Government Regulation in Lieu of Law for the 2020 Pilkada Simultaneously only regulates the election schedule during the pandemic period, while the voting process has not changed. Voters must come to the polls to vote by casting one of the candidates. If the organizers, in this case the General Election Commission (KPU), impose the use of a number of alternative voting options, then according to the executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Peludem), Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati, election organizers are vulnerable to being sued in court.
"This is the time not only to change local election regulations, but also to change Indonesian general election rules which are in the process of revision," he said. (Deborah Blandina Sinambela)