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Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections
Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 197 / Asia

Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections

The government of Indonesia needs to strengthen the management of local elections in order to minimise the risk of violence.

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Executive Summary

Indonesia needs to learn promptly the lessons from the sporadic violence witnessed in its local elections during 2010 as there is some evidence these easily preventable incidents could be increasing in frequency since the last cycle. While most district polls pass peacefully, the small number that do not reveals nationwide institutional weaknesses that should be fixed. These contests are often intense personal rivalries for community power that can be highly emotive and, if not closely watched, can quickly turn violent. While religious and ethnic ties are accentuated by these tense races, to date they have not triggered any sectarian schisms. Many confrontations could be avoided in future polls by relatively simple changes in practices, policies and laws. Rather than being too small for national attention, these political battles matter to this large country because, since decentralisation, it is this level of public administration that has the greatest impact on the lives of citizens. How these elections take place can determine the judgments that voters make on the success or failure of democracy throughout the archipelago.

Violence occurred in fewer than 10 per cent of the 244 scheduled races. While one study found only thirteen incidents in local elections from 2005-2008, they appear to be rising as at least twenty have been recorded in 2010. Among the factors contributing to the increase in this round are anger with incumbents using family members as proxies to get around term limits and growing frustration with poor governance. When polls became violent people died, property was destroyed, voting was delayed and the legitimacy of the state was challenged. In Mojo­kerto district in East Java, Tana Toraja in South Sulawesi and Tolitoli in Central Sulawesi, campaigns linked to violence had exaggerated expectations that their candidate could oust an incumbent or his handpicked successor. In these cases, lax election commissions and police missed or ignored the warning signs.

There are also some positive aspects to this round. In places where lessons were learnt from the past, like the post-conflict district of Poso in Central Sulawesi, security forces, election organisers and community leaders were alert to the dangers and worked together early to avoid any ugly consequences. In such communities the elections proceeded without incident as all sides acted responsibly, lawfully and showed common sense. More success stories need to be studied by national and district authorities as part of a systematic review of all elections.

The way district election commissions are chosen needs to be reconsidered to boost their legitimacy and effectiveness. Their indecisiveness lies in the selection of weak members who lack local authority, leadership skills and the ability to communicate effectively with constituents. Rather than seek out those who are respected and qualified, the commissions are often staffed by young and clever job-hunters looking for work and who are able to navigate the bureaucratic selection process. In the three violent cases in this report, the local commissions seemed too partial and had insufficient clout to do their job. They moved slowly, lacked transparency and were unprepared for unforeseen situations, a combination that only increased suspicions, raised tensions and drew allegations of bias. Security forces should maintain strict neutrality at all times during elections.

The funding of electoral administration from the regional government’s budget undermines its independence. Consideration should be given to paying for local election authorities from the national coffers. There are few legal restrictions on local executives who can quite legitimately exploit state facilities and agencies to aid their re-election. The low level of trust in the process is compounded by prevalent vote buying, intimidation and the mobilisation of ethnic groups to support specific candidates. Better training and regulation of funding, improved selection processes for election bodies and national supervision could address these issues. Money allocated for election administration and security should not be fungible, diverted to other uses or misappropriated.

Jakarta/Brussels, 8 December 2010

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.
 

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013