Indonesian voters still tend to be permissive of money politics

Magdalena (not her real name), a woman living in North Sumatra, received Rp 150,000 (US$10.65) in full cash, handed to her in crisp Rupiah bills allegedly by the campaign team of Poltak Sitorus and Tonny Simanjuntak, the regional leader candidates from the province’s Toba Samosir regency. Not only her, her husband and in-laws also received money on the same sum per person, allegedly also from the same candidates’ campaign team.

The three of them received the money just a week prior to the general elections’ voting day on Dec. 9, 2020. “The pair’s campaign team members actually delivered the cash home to us. Every household member with voting rights in our neighborhood would be given money from them,” she told on Monday, Jan. 11.

Not just receiving money from that pair of candidates, which was listed number one on the last year’s simultaneous elections, the neighborhood’s residents also received money, allegedly from the contending campaign team of the incumbent regent candidates, namely Darwin Siagian and Hulman Sitorus. The campaign team of this incumbent pair allegedly handed Rp 50,000 to each voter in the neighborhood.

Having observed such practices, Magdalena said she believed that last year’s regional leader election was not based on ideology and policies, but on financial transactions instead. Yet, Magdalena said her family did not hesitate to bag the cash from both sides, while agreeing to cast their votes for the candidates who had given them the largest sum of money per individual (allegedly, the Poltak and Tonny pair).

“As a result, the voters in our neighborhood tended to vote for candidates who had given them money, no matter how small it was,” Magdalena said.

The Toba Samosir General Elections Commission (KPU) chapter revealed that the Poltak-Tonny pair received the biggest number of votes, from 63,945 voters. Meanwhile, the other pair of candidates — with the incumbents running for office — was able to rake in 41,949 votes only.

What Magdalena went through was merely the tip of the whole transactional politics practices which had happened during the 2020 simultaneous elections. The latest survey from the Indonesian Survey Institution (LSI) revealed that after the voting day of the 2020 regional elections ended on Dec. 9, about 26.6 percent of their respondents said that they had been offered money during the campaign cycles.

Furthermore, about 21.9 percent of the respondents surveyed also claimed that they had been offered some cash or other materials by members of campaign teams who had approached them about two times already. Furthermore, about 4.7 percent said that members of these campaign teams had approached them more than two times to offer the cash or other materials.

“Quite a lot of voters revealed that they had received some monetary or material offers [in exchange for their votes],” said LSI Executive Director Djayadi Hanan during a discussion disseminating the results of the survey on Sunday, Jan. 10.

Nonetheless, the LSI survey results do not indicate any rise of money politics practices in Indonesia during the pandemic period. A more shocking finding, however, according to Djayadi, about 29 percent of the voters surveyed said they believed there was nothing wrong with money politics, while the same percentage claimed at the same time that they were casting their votes in accordance with their personal preferences, regardless of the money.

“Whether on the attitudinal or behavioral levels, it seems like Indonesians are quite permissive on money politics. Therefore, we still need to conduct extensive public education programs so we can slowly eliminate money politics from our local election cycles,” he said.

Meanwhile, local think tank Indonesian Political Indicator Executive Director Burhanuddin Muhtadi said that Indonesians became permissive toward money politics, because such practices had become the norm in our relatively young democracy, especially in resource-intensive regions like Kalimantan and Sumatra, based on his research on the 2006 and 2015 regional elections.

This only makes sense, since the stakes of winning or losing in such regions, where you have much more parties with much more opposing agendas, are much higher compared to the less resource-intensive regions.

When the stakes were so high, Burhanuddin said that politicians from resource-intensive regions with intense political competition such as West Java, East Java and North Sumatra tended to resort to vote buying practices to make sure that people would vote for them.

“People living across several Kalimantan regions tend to have higher tolerance toward money politics, with the tolerance rate can amount to as high as 70 percent. Yet, it’s not merely because the voters are greedy for cash. Their behavior has also been primarily encouraged by the political candidates who practice money politics in such an over-the-top manner,” he said.

Yet, according to Burhanuddin, only a few of these rampant money politics cases had been properly handled by the Indonesian Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu). According to Bawaslu data on Dec. 17, 2020, only 262 cases of money politics got filed to the institution, a number which Burhanuddin believed represented only the tip of the iceberg. In more details, out of the total number of reports, about 197 were filed by the public, while 65 others were discovered by the Bawaslu.

“Is our legal system so weak that we can’t even document money politics practices properly? Or is this caused by a different factor?” he asked, rhetorically.

Apart from voters’ permissiveness, he believed that rampant practices of money politics in Indonesia during 2020 had also been motivated by the economic hardships that people faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Up until the end of 2020, the pandemic had caused about 2.56 million Indonesians to lose their jobs, while causing more than 1.8 million Indonesians to face a significant income decline as well. The economic hardships that people faced had driven them to just accept the money offered by the politicians instead of pushing for these politicians to come up with sound policies during their campaign.

Still speaking of the pandemic, the Association for Elections and Democracy Board of Advisors (Perludem) member Titi Anggraini lamented the social restrictions, which had been applied during the pandemic for the lax monitoring of the 2020 elections, making the elections supervisory activities less ideal.

As we can imagine, the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) had greatly limited the space in which both the voters and voting organizers moved to monitor and supervise the entire elections cycle.

Besides the confined space in which the supervisors and voters alike had to conduct the entire elections cycle last year, Titi also pointed to the lack of holistic legal instruments with which the authorities could punish those who engaged in money politics as one of the obstacles of eliminating vote buying from our elections.

She also pointed to the lack of harmony among the legal instruments as another problem: “we have some legal instruments we need to enforce the law, yet the personnel we had in the fields oftentimes lacked the authority to implement these already-existing regulations”.

This is all such as a shame because according to Titi, we do have a better regulation about transactional politics in our regional elections cycle, far better than the regulations on money politics in the legislative and presidential elections processes. For instance, article 187A of the Law No. 10/2016 on the simultaneous regional elections did not punish only those who handed out the money but also the receivers.

However, despite the already-existing legal product, there was still a big void as Titi said the Bawaslu had not developed any instruments to report and punish caught-in-the-act violations in the fields. Therefore, Titi suggested that in the next regional elections, the police could takeover law enforcement activities from the Bawaslu.

Meanwhile, regional autonomy expert Djohermansyah Djohan said during the pandemic, the incumbent candidates also diluted their social welfare programs as a way to entice voters. He said he believed that candidates who had been sitting on government positions could actually misuse the social welfare fund for their own gains in their candidacies.

“Reports from our regional agencies actually indicate that the incumbents want to attach their names into the social welfare activities,” he said.

In the future, the former Home Affairs Ministry Regional Autonomy director general said he hoped that the country could expand on the semantic meaning of the “money politics” phrase in the Elections Law.

The Elections Law No. 10/2016 defines money politics as promising and/or giving money and other materials to influence elections organizers and the voters. According to him, the law needs to specify the forms of transactional politics more meticulously, including the ones which exploit government programs.

“Money politics can be mitigated through systemic improvements of the electoral process, which can also start from the political parties themselves,” he said.

Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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