Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections
Indonesia: Preventing Violence in Local Elections
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 197 / Asia 2 minutes

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

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