Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy after the US and India, is once again gearing to hold simultaneous regional head elections (Pilkada) in 270 regions, or nearly half of its territories, on December 9 this year.
Elections are viewed as a "fiesta of democracy" in the country with a population of over 270 million people. Election preparations are usually hectic and the people enjoy the hustle bustle of campaigning, interspersed with parades and musical performances by local artists.
The first simultaneous local elections were held in 2015, and again in 2017 and 2018. All of them were conducted relatively smoothly and peacefully.
But, this year, the simultaneous Pilkada will be different owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed 8,336 lives and infected 203,342 people since the government announced the first confirmed cases on March 2, 2020.
As the Pilkada implementation process begins and the dates for the campaigning period draw closer, the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has shown an increase.
In fact, the novel coronavirus disease has become a real threat to local elections as the virus has infected several local election officers despite the implementation of health protocols.
In East Barito District, Central Kalimantan, the head of the local election supervisory office (Bawaslu), identified as F (37), and a member of the the local election office (KPU), identified as Z (44), have tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time.
In Papua, a member of the local KPU has contracted the virus. In Boyolali, Central Java, 69 KPU officers have been infected with COVID-19.
Several prospective candidate pairs participating in the elections in various regions have also reportedly been infected with COVID-19.
Hence, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has once again lent considerable weightage to no compromises being made in applying COVID-19 health protocols during each stage of the 2020 regional head elections, saying public health remains an unwavering priority.
"I need to once again reaffirm that the health of the people is everything, which means there would be no compromises in the implementation of health protocols," the President said on September 8, 2020.
He highlighted the criticality of implementing health protocols in the wake of continued and gross health protocol violations by prospective candidate pairs, including holding of concerts during the participation declarations, adding that such actions cannot be tolerated.
Officers of the General Election Commission (KPU), the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), local governments, military and police forces, law enforcement agencies, all community leaders, and organizational figures must actively discipline the public in implementing health protocols, he urged.
The 2020 regional head elections will be held simultaneously in 270 regions, covering nine provinces, 224 districts, and 37 cities.
The campaign period will last from September 26 to December 5, 2020, or 71 days. Initially, the D-day of the Pilkada voting was set for September 23, 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the voting day has been postponed to December 9, 2020. As many as 109,569,111 eligible voters are expected to turn out on polling day.
KPU chairman Arif Budiman has said that 734 nominee pairs have registered as candidate pairs for the 2020 Pilkada.
"Of the total number of nominees, 1,313 are men and 155 are women. A total of 667 pairs have been nominated by political parties and 67 pairs are independent nominees," he noted.
For the preparations for the Pilkada, 98 percent of the budget from the government has been transferred to the KPU. The first disbursement amounted to Rp941 billion and the last one was of Rp2.8 trillion.
Earlier, the KPU had requested an additional budget of Rp4.7 trillion for conducting the elections.
In the meantime, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the National Police is coordinating each process of Pilkada implementation with the KPU and the Task Force for COVID-19 Response.
The National Police — which has been tasked with ensuring the public follow the health protocols, such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing — has deployed 192,168 personnel to maintain security during the stages of the Pilkada.
"A force of 192,168 personnel is being involved to secure the stages of Pilkada in each region. It is entirely up to the Regional Office head to determine the number of personnel (to be) involved, in accordance with the vulnerability in each region," Brigadier General Awi Setiyono, spokesperson for the National Police, said on September 8, 2020.
The Indonesian Police will deploy 137,729 personnel to guard 300,152 polling stations (TPS) on polling day.
In fact, while completing the registration formalities for candidate pairs for the 2020 Pilkada from September 4-6, 2020, several candidates had violated health protocols by organizing activities attended by crowds of supporters.
This has prompted Bambang Soesatyo (Bamsoet), Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairman, to caution that holding simultaneous elections should not lead to the emergence of new clusters of COVID-19.
He has urged regional governments to remain stringent in applying health protocols since preparations for the 2020 Pilkada are under way in the midst of the rising trend in COVID-19 cases.
Bamsoet has further pointed to the increasing number of violations of health protocols during the registration of the candidates owing to their congregating and ignoring health protocols.
The MPR chairman emphasized that in the event of violations of health protocols, the Regional General Election Commissions (KPUD) and the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) should seek assistance from civil servants designated as legal enforcement officers to maintain order.
To insure against any more health protocol violations during the local election campaign, candidates must manage their supporters properly and adhere to health protocols, he advised.
In addition, the KPUD and Bawaslu must have the pluck to limit the number of people participating in any activity related to election preparations, he added.
The regional head elections will rampantly trigger new clusters of COVID-19, if health protocols are violated, he warned.
Election organizers and law enforcement officials must take precautionary measures during face-to-face meetings in the campaign period and on polling day in particular, he added.
Stringent sanctions must be imposed on those failing to comply with the rules, as this would have a deterrent effect on prospective candidates failing to prevent crowds during the upcoming campaign period, he said.