A WhatsApp Group called “Anies Baswedan Volunteers” (Relawan Anies Baswedan) suddenly became ‘noisy’ as the participants talked about a recent event attended by Anies Baswedan in Banda Aceh. The gathering and healthy walk event were suddenly canceled by local authorities, a dubious move that the supporters deemed as sabotage.
The leader of Bala Anies Volunteers (Relawan Bala Anies), Sismono La Ode, said that the event was scheduled to take place at Ratu Safiatuddin Park in Banda Aceh on November 28, 2022. However, the Culture and Tourism Office in Aceh Province revoked the permit just two days beforehand.
“Volunteers in the WhatsApp group were shocked. The cancellation was carried out on the grounds that the venue would be occupied for other activities, “Sismono told Jaring.id when contacted on Friday, December 16, 2022.
Due to the cancellation, the volunteers immediately scrambled to find a new location, then decided to hold the event at the Baiturrahman Mosque. Sismono was relieved that the sudden change of location did not make sympathizers cancel their attendance at the event, as hundreds came to the venue and were excited to meet Anies.
“We had to move the venue, but still hundreds of people were willing to come. They were really enthusiastic. Some even asked for photos. We believe that the presence of Anies is needed in Aceh,” he said.
It was not only once or twice that event involving Anies in various regions were canceled. According to Sismono, during October and November 2022, the presence of Anies was blocked in Kalimantan, Pekanbaru, and East Java. “In East Java, people even install a banner [rejecting the presence of Anies],” he said.
“As if all of these are systematic. We see that the attempt to block Anies is a panic reaction of the opponents because they could not find a bad track record of Anies,” he continued.
According to Sismono, Anies has made a number of achievements during his tenure as Governor of DKI Jakarta. One of them is organizing the city by building pedestrians, bicycle lanes, and city parks that are easily accessible to Jakarta residents. “That’s why we want to sell ideas [based on the achievements]. Do not pit people against each other with identity politics. It would exacerbate the competing atmosphere among supporters in the society,” he said.
The Aceh Disbudpar previously revoked Anies’ activity permit based on a letter numbered 900/096/2022 on Tuesday, November 28, 2022. “The permit to use the Taman Ratu Safiatuddin Area is revoked because your activities are not in accordance with the provisions of the Licensing Letter that we issued in point 2 paragraphs (a) and (b),” the letter read.
Less than a week after Anies’ activities in Aceh, a resident reported Anies to the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on Friday, December 2, 2022, on the grounds that the former governor of DKI Jakarta was suspected of beginning the campaign earlier. The complaint was received with a report numbered 001/LP/PL/RI/00.00/XII/2022. However, Bawaslu assessed that the report did not meet the requirements because it was not completed with evidence. “The report does not meet the material requirements,” said Puadi, the Coordinator of the Violation Handling, Data and Information Division of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), in a press conference, Thursday, December 15, 2022.
The report was stated to only meet the formal requirements and lack of material requirements, while the alleged violations reported to Bawaslu must meet the formal and material requirements at the same time. “Bawaslu has also ordered Panwaslih (the local committee for elections supervisory) Aceh Province to explore the information, and events reported by visiting related parties for questioning,” said Puadi.
In response, Anies’ volunteers felt that the report did not make sense. “They should have understood the law [before filing the report]. It’s just a gathering to greet the community. Other candidates also do the same. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no campaign, then why they had to report it?” he queried.
“What would be the matter of the prosecution then? Anies is not a candidate. He has only been selected to be a presidential hopeful from the Nasdem Party. The prohibition in the law only applies to the formal presidential candidates declared by the KPU. We don’t take the lawsuit seriously,” he added.
In line with Bawaslu, the Chairman of the General Election Commission (KPU), Hasyim Asyari, considered what Anies and sympathizers did as something natural. Other presidential candidates can do the same thing to increase electability. “In a nomination mechanism, usually there is a recruitment in the party to select which figures are eligible. Then, the party will hold a nomination before they register their candidate to the KPU,” said Hasyim when Jaring.id interviewed him on Thursday, December 29, 2022.
Referring to Law Number 7 of 2017 concerning Elections, Hasyim said that the KPU could only declare someone as a candidate when it had been determined in the list of permanent candidates. “Currently, we have not started the registration process, so there has not been any formal candidate for now.”
Boosting The Electability
The movement of volunteers promoting a number of public figures as presidential candidates is common in Indonesia. Since the 2019 presidential election, a lot of volunteer groups have declared themselves supporting one of the candidates. These include volunteer groups calling themselves the Jokowi Volunteers (Rejo) and Golkar-Jokowi Volunteers (GoJo) who support Joko Widodo. The other group is Dunsanak Prabowo, a volunteer group supporting Prabowo Subianto. Some of them still exist today.
On Saturday, November 26, 2022, thousands of Jokowi volunteers held a grand meeting at Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, where the President himself was also present. In his speech, the president openly revealed the figure that is worth supporting in the next election. “White-haired, with wrinkles on the forehead,” said Jokowi. This joking statement was greeted with laughter from his supporters.
Chairman of the Jokowi Mania Volunteers, Immanuel Ebenezer was reluctant to respond to the activities organized by Jokowi volunteers at the GBK stadium. “I don’t want to answer that question (activities at GBK),” said Noel – his nickname to Jaring.id when contacted by telephone, Wednesday, January 4, 2023.
Ahead of the upcoming 2024 simultaneous elections, the volunteer movement is believed to be ongoing. Anies Baswedan volunteers have even sprung up in various regions. Apart from supporting Anies’ activities in the regions, according to Sismono, volunteers also operate in cyberspace, both via Facebook and Twitter. “The main agenda is to win Anies. But realizing it is not easy. Because Anies is considered the antithesis of the current government,” he said.
The existence of volunteers, according to Sismono, is an important part of accelerating the process of strengthening the image of presidential candidate pairs in the public. However, the party ‘machine’ is not free to move because of the limitation in the internal party mechanism. “Volunteers are free. That is the power of volunteers,” he said.
“When political parties nominate a person, there must be research on the extent of enthusiasm to the person, in this case, for Pak Anies. Volunteers are everywhere. This is a sign that Pak Anies is needed. The community needs Pak Anies. That is the significance of the existence of volunteers,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jokowi volunteer Immanuel Ebenezer expressed his commitment to overseeing Jokowi’s administration. He rejected the three-period discourse that was blown up by a number of parties. “Our political struggle rejects three periods,” said Noel – Immanuel’s nickname.
Instead of supporting movements outside the constitution, Jokowi Mania encourages the 2024 elections to be free from identity politics, hatred, and hoaxes. He does not want Indonesia to be trapped again in the situation of the 2017 Jakarta elections and the 2019 presidential elections. “[In the previous elections], there was no politics of ‘competing in ideas and programs’. Voters should be offered with programs, not influenced with hatred and hoaxes. This is a threat to democracy,” said Noel.
In the 2017 Gubernatorial Election in Jakarta, there were three candidates, Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama-Djarot Saiful Hidayat, and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono-Sylviana Murni. Meanwhile, the 2019 presidential election saw two camps competing for the position: Jokowi-Ma’ruf Amin and Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno.
Noel invited all volunteers, both Jokowi’s and Anies’ volunteers, national figures, and political parties to get together in national reconciliation. “We offer to conduct a reconciliation before the election because we don’t want any polarization like in 2017 and 2019. We invite the nation to reconcile and strengthen legal institutions without any intention to eliminate political opponents with different views,” he said.
A year ahead of the 2024 elections, the latest survey by Indikator Politik Indonesia reveals the relationship between Anies’ electability and President Jokowi’s performance. When the level of satisfaction with the President is low, Anies’ electability tends to increase. “Any dissatisfaction with Pak Jokowi’s performance would likely contribute to increasing Anies’ level of electability,” said Executive Director of the Indonesian Political Indicator Burhanuddin Muhtadi, Wednesday, January 4, 2023.
Conversely, Ganjar’s electability tends to rise when the president’s performance improves. “So Ganjar’s electability is framed by Mr. Jokowi’s approval rating. It’s easy to explain, both of them are from PDIP, maybe Ganjar is considered as the little Jokowi,” said Burhanudin. In December 2021, Ganjar’s electability reached 33.9 percent. When tested with a simulation of three presidential candidates, Ganjar still occupies the first position with 35.8 percent electability, followed by Anies at 28.3 percent, and Prabowo at 26.7 percent.
In response, the Secretary General of PDI Perjuangan, Hasto Kristiyanto, did not deny the influence of the president’s performance on the electability of Ganjar, Puan, and Prabowo. According to him, the survey will be an asset for PDIP to determine the name of the presidential candidate. “After the presidential candidate is determined by the party, the vice president is the key to unifying the parties in a coalition,” said Hasto on Wednesday, January 4, 2023.
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Nasdem Party, Johnny G. Plate, said that Anies’ increase in electability was inseparable from the political-based visits carried out in October-November last year, together with the volunteers. According to him, it is natural that there is an increase in electability during October-November. “It gives an impact on the survey results, that is the increase in the electability of the figure we propose. It was a significant increase. Very significantly rose, exceeding the electability of Prabowo,” he said.
“The case is different in December. We didn’t do anything, because we did a local review and consolidation. So it’s natural that it went down,” he added.
Director of the Election and Democracy Association (Perludem), Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati, strengthened the existence of volunteers to contribute to increasing the electability of the figures they support. The movement that was built was able to encourage the public to know the figure of the presidential candidate. According to her, volunteers made use of loopholes that were not regulated in the election law.
“Based on the experience in previous elections, volunteers can significantly increase electability. There is a relationship between volunteers and the candidates they will support,” said Khoirunnisa.
However, Ninis – her nickname, assessed that this condition was not good for the quality of democracy in Indonesia. In terms of campaign cost management, for example, volunteers never openly disclose to the public. “The problem is that when talking about campaign or hospitality costs incurred by volunteers, transparency needs to be encouraged,” she said.
Another problem is when volunteers campaign for their presidential candidate through social media. So far, according to Ninis, there has never been clear law enforcement. Even cases of campaigning or promoting presidential candidates on social media have never been recorded. This condition makes volunteers feel free to campaign as they want in every election. “And when there is a violation, then they can easily say that it is the volunteers. But the thing is that the campaign should be official and should not be against the law. Therefore, this issue should be regulated more clearly,” said Ninis.
For this reason, Perludem suggests that the existence of election volunteers should be regulated. Currently, the Election Law Number 7 of the Year 2017 does not regulate about volunteers. Likewise with KPU regulations. “We hope for more technical regulations that can be more progressive,” she said.
More than Just Volunteers
KPU Chief Commissioner Hasyim emphasized that activities of volunteers organizing support for certain candidates are not considered campaigns. Because the campaign period has certain provisions regulated by the KPU. “We call it a campaign if the public is invited to vote for a certain candidate.”
According to him, the current volunteer activities are just a gathering forum, and KPU does not consider it part of a veiled campaign. “It’s because they do not promote a certain figure as a formal candidate. Volunteers are just like worshippers in a recitation forum, they simply follow the leader.”
The two-term commissioner said that the term ‘volunteer’ is not recognized in the General Election Law. The term volunteer known by the KPU is simply “an election committee”, that aims to reach marginalized groups so that they do not lose their voting rights. “Volunteers are not recognized in the election law. The law only uses the term ‘campaign team’, which consists of several names registered with the KPU [to formally conduct a campaign]. So, we don’t see volunteer activities as a campaign. There is no need to worry,” he said.
Neighboring Malaysia and Timor Leste also do not recognize volunteers in practical politics. The concept of volunteers in these two countries is limited to election volunteers who participate in the success of election activities. There are no volunteers who support certain political figures like in Indonesia. This was revealed by MalaysiaKini journalist Alya Rahman. According to Alya, volunteers in Malaysia are supporting sympathizers who are prepared during the campaign period. “Conditions in Indonesia are different from those in Malaysia,” she said.
In Timor Leste, volunteers are divided into two terms. One is those who are often referred to as independent volunteers during presidential elections. The other is known as people who flock to support certain parties. “Volunteers do not have to support a party during the presidential election. But if it is a parliamentary election, they must declare the party they support. Usually, the supporting volunteer association is included in the party structure, “said Centro National Chega (CNC) Director Hugo Fernandes to Jaring.id, Monday, January 30, 2023, by telephone.
Even so, this former volunteer for Timor Leste’s independent presidential candidate in 2022 assessed that the existence of volunteers was not significant in boosting the level of electability of presidential candidates. This is because party dominance is quite strong in Timor Leste. “The existence of volunteers is usually insignificant. The party cadres play greater roles,” he said.
The presidential and parliamentary election system in Timor Leste is different from that in Indonesia. One of them is about the election schedule. Timor Leste, said Hugo, only takes three months to prepare for elections. Therefore, the existence of volunteers outside the party is not significant. “Next week, we will start discussing the Parliamentary Election Bill. So it takes three months before the vote,” said Hugo.