Violating the Covid-19 protocols, in droves

Riding a Vanderhall, a three-wheeled car made in the United States, the incumbent Karawang regent Cellica Nurrachadiana and her running mate Aep Saepuloh were paraded by hundreds of their sympathizers on Friday, Sept. 4 as they were making their way to register as candidates for the upcoming simultaneous elections in December 2020.

On Sept. 4, these candidates appeared to defy all COVID-19-related health protocols as they dared to assemble the masses who supported them in front of the General Elections Commission office in Karawang, the city of Bekasi, West Java.

Pictures showing both candidates’ recklessness angered the Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian. Tito even issued a warning letter to the incumbent Karawang regent, which had been signed by the Home Affairs Regional Autonomy Director General Akmal Malik on behalf of the minister.

“Their actions run counter with the government’s efforts to overcome and break the chain of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19,” writes the minister in a press release he made available on Sept. 5, 2020.

Besides the incumbent Karawang regent who seeks reelection, the minister also sent a warning letter to incumbent regents of the Muna Barat, Muna and Wakatobi regencies – all located in Southeast Sulawesi – namely Laode Muhammad Rajiun Tumada, L.M. Rusman Emba and H. Arhawi, respectively, for also breaking the COVID-19 prevention protocols.

These incumbents are merely the tip of the iceberg – there are at least 72 incumbent running pairs who have been scolded by the Home Affairs Ministry for violating the COVID-19-related health protocols while registering as candidates for the upcoming simultaneous elections during the Sept. 4 to 6 period.

Similarly, on top of that, the Elections Supervisory Body discovered a total of 243 COVID-19 health protocols violations conducted by candidates of the upcoming regional elections. According to West Java Elections Supervisory Body member Lolly Suhenti, the majority of the health protocols violations happened outside the General Elections Commission office.

Not only the candidates’ sympathizers did not wear face masks; they also did not implement physical distance – the requirement to keep a more than one-meter barrier from each other. In fact, Lolly said, the Elections Supervisory Body had already reminded all the candidates to comply with the health protocols while registering themselves to run for the 2020 regional elections.

Just so you know, the Elections Supervisory Body had issued Regulation No. 4/2020 on supervision on elections violation and dispute settlement. The regulatory measure contains one entire chapter specifically regulating the supervision on health protocol violations. Yet, members of the body are authorized to supervise the elections process only, with no authorities to take legal actions against the violators.

“We are coordinating closely with the police, because they are the ones authorized to disperse the masses,” said Lolly during a discussion called The Regional Elections and New COVID-19 Clusters held on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Besides supervising and monitoring the process, the body is also required to actively conduct public education sessions on the COVID-19 protocols. In West Java alone, about 1,210 participative supervisors have been put on duty to educate the public through various campaign programs.

Indonesian General Elections Commission member I Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi said he regretted the mass crowd gatherings which had happened all through the regional head candidates’ registration process in September 2020. In fact, he said, his organization had already issued Regulation No. 10/2020 related to the regional elections’ proceedings during the pandemic.

On Chapters 49 and 50 of the regulation, the commission only allowed pairs of candidates, political parties’ core committee and the candidates’ liaison officers to go to the registration centers, no more. Their sympathizers, meanwhile, can only support their candidates through the commission’s various social media channels across various regions to avoid overcrowding amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We organize the entire procedure in full compliance to the COVID-19 prevention and infection standards,” Dewa said.

Keeping in mind the rampant violations on the health protocols during the registration process, Dewa has never gotten tired of reminding the candidates constantly that they should never violate any protocols in the upcoming campaign period. Face-to-face campaign activities, such as limited dialogues, can be done involving a total of 50 participants only.

Meanwhile, the general meetings are allowed to be attended by less than 100 persons only, in full compliance with all the health and hygiene protocols. Currently, he said that the commission is revising all the campaign regulations to adjust them with the latest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, to make sure that candidates could maximize their virtual campaign activities using social media.

For the upcoming simultaneous regional elections in December 2020, the commission received 735 registration submissions from aspiring pairs of candidates. Out of the number, 60 had already been declared as COVID-19-positive upon going through a swab test.

One pair of candidates in Sidoarjo in East Java was even caught registering himself by walking straight to the commission’s office, despite being required to undergo quarantine as he had already been diagnosed COVID-19-positive. In this light, Dewa said he expected all pairs of candidates, along with their sympathizers had some kind of awareness on the dangers of COVID-19 infection.

“Politicians who run for the upcoming simultaneous regional elections will not have their candidacies annulled if they’re tested positive with COVID-19. Yet, the pandemic situation will bar some pairs of candidates who have been tested positive with COVID-19 from joining some programs,” Dewa said.

Some of the candidates who have been tested positive with COVID-19 during the registration process are obliged to go through voluntary home quarantine, in compliance with the standard COVID-19 health protocols, until their swab test diagnosis is negative.

If some of the candidates miss some of the registration procedure cycles set in the official timeline of the upcoming elections – such as the dates set for medical checkups – because they have to undergo home quarantine, then the commission will reschedule these procedures for them.

Risk mitigation measures still inadequate

University of Indonesia Political Studies Center Director Aditya Perdana said that carrying on organizing the upcoming regional elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a highly risky affair.

Seeing just how rampant health protocol violations among the candidates in the registration process has made a lot of people skeptical that these candidates and their sympathizers will be able to implement the protocols during the campaign and voting process, according to Aditya.

Aside from that, the government, along with the General Elections Commission and elections Supervisory Body also appeared to have hiccups in dealing with some violations which they should have been able to mitigate properly, he continued.

“What a big irony since the government, the House of Representatives lawmakers and the elections organizers had already decided in a cocksure way that the upcoming regional elections in 2020 could be organized under strict health protocol implementation. In reality, we are watching the candidates who will join the upcoming elections violating the protocols in droves, in broad daylight, involving big crowds and parades,” he said.

For that reason, Aditya advised elections operators to evaluate or revise their entire regional elections guideline to adjust with the pandemic situation. He said that the regulations needed to prevent the overcrowding of masses, something which we had already witnessed during the candidates’ registration process and was very likely to happen again during the announcement of the pairs of candidates who made it to the next elections rounds as well as their campaign period.

The stakeholders in question also need to simulate these regulations in every step of the way by inviting security officers as well as members of the regional COVID-19 task force to ensure they could carry on their jobs ensuring that the regional elections’ programs will not exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus in Indonesia, according to Aditya.

Aditya said he did not want to see members of the institutions related to the elections playing the blame game and pointing their fingers towards each other when they failed to control the situations in the field.

The Association for the Elections and Democracy researcher Heroik Pratama, meanwhile, suggested that all the regulations related to the organization of the upcoming elections comprised very strict punishments for violators.

According to Aditya, organizers of the upcoming elections need to specifically consider disqualifying pairs of candidates who violate the COVID-19 health protocols. The Elections Supervisory Body could work together with the Integrated Law Enforcement Center.

“We appreciate the Home Affairs Ministry’s suggestion that we postpone the inauguration of successful candidates as a form of punishment for health protocols violation. Yet, that cannot solve the violations problem until we are approaching the very end of the elections process. We need stringent punishment on pairs of candidates who violate the health protocols while we’re leading up to the simultaneous general elections in December 2020,” Aditya said.

Heroik added that the government, along with the General Elections Commission and the Elections Supervisory Body along with the House of Representatives member needed to make sure that all health protocols could be implemented properly during the Regional Elections cycle.

To bring down risks of infection, the organizers of the upcoming elections also need to maximize their use of digital platforms, according to Heroik. He said he believed that the use of digital platforms would by no means reduce the rights of the candidates in the upcoming 2020 regional elections.

“If the government, the commission, the elections supervisory body and the house lawmakers could not make sure that the health protocols are strictly implemented, there is no other choice but to postpone the regional elections cycle and reevaluate the health protocols in place,” he asserted.

Furthermore, the Home Affairs Ministry suggested that the commission added more chapters regarding the gathering of crowds, organization of parades as well as social work amid COVID-19 regional elections cycle in its Regulation No. 10/2020. Yet, according to the Home Affairs Ministry Regional Autonomy Director General Saydiman Marto, his institution has yet to draft additional punishment suggestions for candidates who violate the health protocols.

He said that the most stringent punishment they imposed on violators was to issue them a verbal warning.

“Then, if they continue to repeat their offenses, we can tap into various regulations [to punish them],” he said.

To deal with various problems related to the registration cycle, the House of Representatives’ commission II overseeing the elections, the Elections Supervisory Body and the Elections’ Honorary Council already conducted a work meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8.

One of the conclusions from the meeting was a more stringent disciplinary actions and legal punishments are needed during the regional elections cycle amid COVID-19. Detailed regulations on the punishments should be issued by Sept. 14 at the latest to ensure the safety of voters, candidates and the voting officers in the field.

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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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