Campaign Abuses

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Involving regional heads in campaign teams, and allowing them to promote the presidential candidate whom they support, can damage our democracy. This system, which involves majority votes, works under the condition of equality between candidates and voters.

    In this presidential race, the majority of governors, regents and mayors campaign for incumbent Joko Widodo. Becoming part of a candidate’s campaign team makes a regional head lose his or her impartiality and independence, and even veer towards abuse of power.

    Regional heads clearly have around-the-clock privileges, such as security and access to facilities. Even when off duty, they still have the right to security services and taking advantage of a spectrum of public facilities while campaigning.

    The crux of the problem lies in the Elections Law and the regulations of the Elections Commission which allows regional heads to be part of campaign teams. Those two rules only prohibit regional heads to become chief campaigners, saying that it should not stand in the way of their state duties.

    Along the same reasoning, being part of a campaign team would still stand in the way of the regional heads’ duties towards the state. They should at least ask for a leave of absence and temporarily step down from their position while campaigning for their chosen presidential candidate. Everyone has the political right to join in a campaign. However, it becomes a problem when this right is exercised by regional heads, who would have to be absent from their duties of serving the public.

    These loose rules carry another potential abuse of power: the incumbent could use it as a political tool to pressure and intimidate regional heads. Realizing the wide reach of regional heads, any incumbent would pressure these leaders to support him. Bargaining chips could include potential criminal cases the leaders may face since the president oversees the Police and Attorney General’s Office. Or the lure of lucrative positions for those who face retirement after the elections.

    In order to have a fair and just democracy, the involvement of regional heads in presidential campaigns should be prohibited. Regional heads should not take advantage of their positions to support a presidential candidate. The actions of Hendrajoni, the regent of Pesisir Selatan, who last week handed over government assistance to civil servants and community figures in West Sumatra and claimed it was from President Jokowi, is a clear example of abuse of power during elections season.

    As changing regulations through a law revision or material testing would take a lot of time, our only hope lies on the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu). This body should scrutinize the use of public facilities by regional heads during campaigns. Bawaslu could utilize article 280, paragraph 1-h, regarding the prohibition of using government facilities in campaigning.

    These regulations could halt regional heads and public servants who are abusing public facilities in campaigning. Violators of these regulations could face up to two years in jail.

    Bawaslu must make exerted efforts to counter misuse of public facilities by regional heads as a result of loose campaign regulations. By doing this, the presidential campaigns can be carried out fairly.