The government has promised that it will disburse an additional budget worth Rp 1.02 trillion (US$69.7 million) to fund the regional elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic as soon as the election cycles start again on June 15. The government will only disburse the remaining fund upon the evaluation of the Finance Ministry, taking each region’s financial capacity into consideration.
The 2020 regional elections cycle will begin again on Monday, June 15 for the upcoming December voting. This is aligned with the National Elections Commission’s (KPU) Regulation No. 5/2020 on the phases, programs and schedules of the regional elections which was announced three days ago. The regulation has been the modified version of KPU’s older Regulation No. 15/2019. The old regulation has been revised by keeping in mind the 0063urrent situation with the coronavirus pandemic.
Commenting upon the revision, a member of the Surabaya chapter of the KPU in East Java, Naafilah Astri, said she could not help but feeling anxious about the new budget.
For instance, Naafilah said, up until today the government has not informed anything regarding the health protection protocol budget, which is estimated to amount to more than Rp 40 billion. Prior to this, she said, the Surabaya city administration disbursed only Rp 101.5 billion to finance the entire regional elections activity. Naafilah said the amount was not sufficient to comply with strict health and hygiene protocols amid the COVID-19.
The majority of the additional fund, according to Naafilah, is used to procure personal protection equipment for polling station officers during the voting day. The KPU regulation design on regional elections amid the COVID-19 disaster makes it compulsory for polling stations to provide 13 health equipment items including disinfectants, thermometers, hand sanitizers, single-use ballot paper punchers, gloves as well as other health protection tools.
“Surabaya is no longer a red zone; it is on its way to become a black zone, thereby, we need to pay special attention to this if we want to go on with the elections cycle,” said Naafilah upon being contacted by Jaring.id on Friday, June 7, 2020.
Besides that, the Surabaya chapter of the KPU also needs to prepare additional funds to set up additional polling stations to prevent large crowds during the voting session. Previously, the maximum number of voters per polling station was set at 800 people, but recently it has been reduced to only 500 voters.
The same thing has also been conveyed by the head of the Makassar chapter of the KPU in South Sulawesi, Farid Wajdi. He said he had to really think hard on how he could procure enough health protection gears for 16,000 polling station officers. At this time, the only health protection gear available to them is face masks. Meanwhile, Makassar has become the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic in South Sulawesi with a total of 2,707 new cases recorded on June 14. Needless to say, the polling station officers absolutely need health protection gears.
On June 14, Indonesia recorded 857 new COVID-19 positive cases nationwide. With this, Indonesia has a total of 38,277 COVID-19 positive cases, with 14,531 patients recovering from it and 2,134 patients died. Out of the 270 regions about the organize the regional elections, five regions have the biggest numbers of COVID-19 positive cases: Surabaya, Makassar, as well as Sidoarjo in East Java, Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan and Depok in West Java.
“The budget amount will determine the performance [of health protection efforts in the elections]. When the two of them are not compatible with each other, we can’t perform maximally,” he said.
The Makassar chapter of the KPU has attempted to restructure its Rp 78 billion budget by, among others, by migrating all meetings, technical guidances, campaigns, educational programs online. Yet these measures are not enough to comply with all health protection protocols. Besides that, according to Farid, amid the pandemic, the fees of all the polling station officers will be increased by between 19 and 70 percent.
Meanwhile, the head of the South Sulawesi chapter of the KPU, Faisal Amir, said that turning all meetings online alone is not sufficient to achieve financial austerity. The budget for regional elections across 12 regencies and cities in South Sulawesi is expected to inflate by 20 to 40 percent; not all regions in South Sulawesi, meanwhile, could access stable internet connection. Data collected by the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) shows that out of 270 regions in Indonesia, there are 17 regencies, 797 districts and 7,987 villages without stable internet connection. Meanwhile, one regency, 500 districts and 4,757 villages are not covered by internet network at all.
“Without sufficient additional budget, organizing high-quality regional elections during COVID-19 makes no sense,” Faisal Amir said.
On June 9, the KPU headquarters have proposed that the Finance Ministry disbursed Rp 4.77 trillion additional fund to the regional elections through KPU letter 433/PR.02.1SD/01/KPU/VI/2020. KPU chairman Arief Budiman said he hoped the government could disburse the additional budget gradually, starting from June 2020.
“Without any certainties about budget security, it is impossible to organize the December 2020,” Arief said during a discussion called Simultaneous Regional Elections Polemics on Thursday, June 12, 2020.
On the first phase of the additional disbursement, according to Arief, KPU needs Rp 1.02 trillion; the remaining Rp 3.2 trillion could be disbursed in August 2020 and the remaining Rp 457 billion could be disbursed in October 2020.
He said the additional budget would be used by each region to procure personal protection equipment in line with health safety protocols. Nevertheless, Arief said he hoped that each region’s COVID-19 task force could help procure the equipment so the regional KPU chapters can just focus on organizing the election.
Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati approved of Rp 1.02 trillion extra budget to be disbursed in the first phase of the election preparations. The fund from the state budget is about to be disbursed in June 2020 while the remaining extra budget will only be disbursed after the Home Affairs Ministry, the Finance Ministry, KPU, Bawaslu, the Election Organization Honorary Council, as well as the COVID-19 task force have synchronized their budgets, while the Finance Ministry still needs to calculate each region’s budget capacity.
“We will research the documents on the proposal background by each regional administration and the Home Affairs Ministry,” says Sri Mulyani on the sidelines of the inter-stakeholders meeting among the institutions mentioned above as well as the House of Representatives’ Commission II on June 12, 2020.
At the same meeting, Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian said that the majority of regional administrations did not have extra budget to comply with the health protection protocols. Out of the 270 regions which will organize the regional elections, 66 of them are yet to submit a report regarding their financial circumstances to the ministry.
“We will first assess the regional budget capacity before injecting additional budget from the state budget,” Tito said.
The Society for General Elections and Democracy Executive Director Titi Anggraini said that the extra budget should come from the state budget, because from the beginning, it has been the central government who keep on insisting to go ahead with the regional elections in December 2020.
She said following the health protocols was non-negotiable as neglecting it would compromise the health of both polling station officers and voters.
“No need to take risks just because we want to rush the elections. This has seemed to cause us to neglect the objective conditions in the field simply because we’re unprepared,” Titi said on June 11, 2020.
Thus, Titi advised the central government to postpone the regional elections to June 2021, in line with the regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) No. 2/2020 on the elections of regional leaders, which allows the government to postpone the regional elections until the pandemic has been over. (Debora Blandina Sinambela)