2019 elections: Another test of Indonesian democracy?

Dozens of people involved in the 2019 election have died. They were members of the polling station working committee (KPPS) and police who had reportedly suffered from exhaustion after working long hours to count the ballots after”the most complicated single-day election in the world”.

The news is shocking because the election went peacefully. The question worth asking is: Why? Is the sacrifice worth it?

The simultaneous elections, in which voters had to cast five ballots at once, were intended to save cost and time, but it appears that the General Election Commission (KPU) did not anticipate how long the counting process would take at the polling station level.

The KPU conducted a simulation on how long it would take for each voter to cast five ballots in each booth, which is about five minutes. But it seems they did not anticipate how long it would take for each polling station to count all the ballots.

If at least 190 million people voted in the April 17 elections, there are at least 950 million ballot papers that must be counted. The results from each polling station is recorded in the C1 form, to make its way into KPU’s total ballots count.

Imagine just how daunting the work must have been.

Some friends who helped at the polling stations said that they had to work around the clock. Although it is clear that their dedication is inspiring, the high death toll should prompt the KPU to reevaluate the conduct of a simultaneous elections such as this.

Should the next legislative and presidential elections be held on the same day again? One life lost is too many.

What is at stake?

The 2019 presidential election is a repeat of 2014 elections, in which Joko “Jokowi” Widodo beat Prabowo by a narrow margin. This time around, Jokowi is expected to win 54%, a slight improvement from 53.15% in 2014.

Just like in 2014, Prabowo claimed that he won the election and alleged widespread attempts of fraud throughout the elections. Even in the lead-up to the elections, the opposition camp has raised publicly the prospect of the elections being rigged in favour of Jokowi.

Tensions have risen in recent days amid fears that Prabowo will resort to mobilising his supporters to revolt over the election fraud allegations, which remain unproven.

Although for some people, the plot thickens.

Rumours about seven containers of ballots pre-marked for Jokowi went viral on social media during the campaign period. A week before voting day, the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) reported that bags of ballots pre-cast for Jokowi had been found in two warehouses in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

As an icing on the cake, former People’s Consultative Assembly chairman Amien Rais went so far as threatening for “people power” if the elections were rigged.

Fearing for a possible post-election unrest, chiefs of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and the National Police issued a joint warning that “anarchic acts” and attempts to undermine the electoral process would be dealt with sternly.

Prabowo has been an active participant of national elections three times, but this year’s election appeared to have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

After the reformasi movement brought down Soeharto in 1998, Prabowo was forced to end his military career due to accusations that he was involved in the disappearances of pro-democracy activists. He moved to Jordan after being dismissed from the military and returned to Indonesia two years later to start a new life as a businessman.

In the 2009 election, Prabowo was picked as the running mate of Megawati Soekarnoputri, reportedly on the agreement that she would back Prabowo as a presidential candidate in 2014. But instead, Megawati picked Joko Widodo (whom she often referred as “the party’s officer), who successfully ran in the gubernatorial election two years earlier, on Prabowo’s backing.

It appears that the perceived betrayal has angered Prabowo, who during campaign rallies often railed against what he called the “untrustworthy political elite in Jakarta”.

Prabowo’s political failures over the past decade could reach a boiling point when combined with the dissatisfaction of some hardline Islamic groups with the current government’s policy which they perceived as anti-Islam.

Black flags with the shahada inscription often associated with the Hizbut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) could be seen during Prabowo’s campaign rallies, despite the government’s decision to ban the organization.

It was for this reason former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose Democratic Party backed Prabowo in the election, reportedly expressed concerns about visible religious symbols at Prabowo’s rally at the Bung Karno stadium on April 7 and called it “too exclusive.”

It is our hope that Prabowo’s grudges, coupled with the encouragement of Islamic groups who also feel oppressed by Jokowi’s government, will not degenerate into “people power.” After all, despite the 21 years of experimenting with democracy, the memories of 1998 unrest continue to haunt us.

The 2019 election will be a test: has Indonesia as a nation grown more mature in exercising democracy? Can allegations of fraud and other irregularities be resolved constitutionally and with dignity?

These coming days will be recorded in the annals of history. Are we moving forward or backward?

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