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Pilkada amid pandemic poses a dilemma

Pilkada amid pandemic poses a dilemma

Central Kalimantan prepares for the 2020 simultaneous regional head elections (Pilkada). ANTARA/Rendhik Andika

One by one, electoral officers who have been busy preparing for the 2020 simultaneous regional head elections (Pilkada) amid the coronavirus pandemic and candidates contesting the polls have tested positive for COVID-19.

Officers from the central and local offices of the General Election Commission (KPU) as well as the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) have contracted the virus, while the KPU headquarters in Jakarta has issued a work-from-home guidance.

The novel coronavirus disease has infected more than 30 million people in 213 countries and territories across the globe, and claimed more than 940 thousand lives since the first cases emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year.

In Indonesia, the total confirmed case tally has reached 236,519 and the death toll has touched 9,336 since the country announced its first COVID-19 infections on March 2, 2020.

The government is determined to hold the Pilkada in 270 regions, or nearly half of its territories, on December 9, 2020, despite a record spike in COVID-19 infections lately, with daily cases reaching nearly four thousand over the last one week.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has frequently lent considerable weightage to no compromises being made in implementing the COVID-19 health protocols during each stage of the local 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.

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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.

As many as 734 nominee pairs have registered as candidate pairs for the 2020 Pilkada, which will be held simultaneously in nine provinces, 224 districts, and 37 cities.

The campaign period will last from September 26 to December 5, 2020, or 71 days. Initially, voting was scheduled to take place on September 23, 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

Meanwhile, KPU chairman Arif Budiman announced on September 18 that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and would work from home. All officers and employees of the KPU headquarters in Jakarta have also been ordered to work from home while the KPU office is disinfected.

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Earlier, commissioner of the central KPU, Evi Novida Ginting Manik, tested positive for COVID-19 in Jakarta.

In addition, at least 63 prospective candidates for the Pilkada have contracted COVID-19, and the figure is likely to increase.

In Boyolali, Central Java, 96 officers of the local office of Bawaslu have contracted COVID-19. In East Barito district, Central Kalimantan, the local Bawaslu chairman, identified as F, 37, and a member of the local KPU, identified as Z, 44, have tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time.

In Riau, the local KPU chairman, Ilham Muhammad Nasir, has tested positive for COVID-19, hence other commissioners of the provincial KPU have also undergone testing for the virus.

Given the risk of holding a large public event, such as elections, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, several parties have voiced their objection to it and sought a further postponement of the 2020 Pilkada.

According to a survey conducted by Polmatrix Indonesia, a large section of people want the 2020 Pilkada to be postponed.

Related news: Most people in favor of postponing 2020 regional head elections

“The survey findings show that 72.4 percent of the respondents prefer that the 2020 Pilkada be postponed in all regions over fears of crowding, thereby leading to the creation of a new COVID-19 clusters,” Polmatrix Indonesia executive director Dendik Rulianto stated in a press release on September 16, 2020.

About 12.1 percent of the survey’s participants want the Pilkada to be postponed in areas designated as red zones or high risk.

In the meantime, 10.6 percent of the respondents are in favor of the Pilkada being held according to schedule, while the remaining 4.9 percent said they did not know or did not answer.

The Polmatrix Indonesian Survey was conducted on September 1-10, 2020, with two thousand respondents representing all Indonesian provinces.

The survey was conducted telephonically and the respondents were selected randomly. The survey's margin of error is 2.2 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.

Rulianto opined that even without holding Pilkada, the spread of the virus would continue. Moreover, the Pilkada preparation is on, he said.

"With a campaign pattern that still relies on mass gathering, the virus will spread more quickly. The impact would be detrimental to the economy and people's livelihoods, as those regions would finally be compelled to implement strict large-scale social distancing (PSBB) measures," Rulianto stated.

The Regional Representatives Council (DPD) had earlier asked that the elections be deferred.

The DPD's Committee I has urged the government to put the elections on hold on the grounds that new COVID-19 clusters could arise as a consequence.

Chief of Committee I of DPD, Fachrul Razi, has described the decision to conduct the elections amid the pandemic as "irrational" as it could create a new cluster of COVID-19.

While the transmission of COVID-19 has shown no signs of abating, Razi said, people are likely to congregate during the campaign period.

Razi affirmed that the committee has been firmly opposed to the simultaneous regional head polls long before the government and House of Representatives (DPR) decided to proceed with the election phases.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, holding elections will run the risk of increasing the rate of transmission of the virus, while on the other hand, no optimum efforts have been made to contain the transmission, he remarked.

"Do not let the regional head elections endanger the safety and health of the public in those regions," he cautioned.

Razi further urged President Widodo to keep public safety in mind and to not underestimate the threat of COVID-19 clusters arising from the elections.

Meanwhile, an academician has said that the preparations and stages of the elections need to be curtailed to reduce the risk to public health.

The process and stages of the Pilkada can be shortened as an option in the current emergency situation, Ahmad Atang, an academician at the University of Muhammadiyah, told ANTARA in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) recently.

According to him, organizing regional head elections in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic poses a dilemma.

On the one hand, no one can guarantee when COVID-19 will end, so the fate of the elections is uncertain, he noted.

On the other hand, no one can guarantee that while holding the regional elections, the community can be kept safe from the threat of COVID-19, he observed.

Furthermore, lately, COVID-19 transmissions have increased significantly nationwide, including in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), he said.

"If this is considered a situation that endangers the community, the discourse on postponing the election needs to be studied to ensure the safety of the people," he said, referring to suggestions that this year's Pilkada be postponed once again due to the pandemic.

However, if the Pilkada is conducted according to the agenda and stages, it is necessary to tighten the enforcement of health protocols, he stated.

The government and administrators must formulate a mechanism that ensures the democratic process runs smoothly without risk to public health, he stressed.

Indonesia, the world's third largest democracy after the US and India, with a population of over 270 million people, views elections as a “fiesta". Election preparations are usually hectic and the people enjoy the hustle bustle of campaigning, interspersed with parades and musical performances by local artists.

However, the deadly pandemic has put a cloud on the “fiesta of democracy” this year.

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