Voting is voluntary in Indonesia, but Jakartans and voters from 100 other regions across the country will live to regret it if they stay away from the polling stations on Wednesday. And the nation may be all that poorer because of it.
Voters should take their cue from the United States, where millions of citizens are now protesting President Donald Trump’s policies, including the suspension of immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, although Indonesia fortunately is not on the list.
Many of those outraged at Trump’s policies contributed to his election in November. A voter turnout of 54.6 percent was lower than the 57.1 percent that gave Barack Obama his first victory in 2008. That amounts to more than 110 million Americans who did not cast their votes in November.
In Jakarta, more than 7.1 million people are registered to vote on Feb. 15. They can hardly complain about the choice of candidates: Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono-Sylviana Murni, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama-Djarot Saiful Hidayat and Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno.
With the four-month election campaign and three televized public debates, voters should have had enough time to assess the candidates’ relative merits, not only based on their vision and programs for the city, but also track records, integrity and character. The three pairs are different enough to represent all the divergent ideologies, aspirations and interests of voters.
Agus-Sylvi is a combination of a young former military figure and an experienced bureaucrat; incumbents Ahok and Djarot have their track records to speak for them; Anies-Sandiaga is a combination of a scholar/educator and a successful businessman.
With most surveys indicating the gaps dividing the three pairs to be quite narrow, one single vote, your vote, could be the telling factor in deciding the winner.
As the election campaign ended on Saturday, Indikator Politik put Agus-Sylvi’s electability at 19 percent, Ahok-Djarot’s at 39 percent and Anies-Sandi’s at 35 percent. The Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) gave Agus-Sylvi 30.9 percent, Ahok-Djarot 30.7 percent and Anies-Sandiaga 29.9 percent.
The Electoral Commission (KPU) has its reasons for wanting the highest possible voter turnout: It is a measure of its success. In the 2012 Jakarta election, 61 percent of those registered cast their votes in the runoff round. Anything less than that on Wednesday would be considered a failure.
Candidates are also campaigning aggressively to make sure their supporters get out and vote.
The nation’s capital city of 10.5 million is struggling to address long standing problems. It needs a governor who can lead the bureaucracy with accountability and transparency to address complex problems, such as traffic congestion, flooding, poverty and a widening wealth gap, and lack of housing and sanitation facilities.
Jakartans never stop complaining about the state of their city, from poor public services to endless traffic jams. Wednesday’s election is their only chance to decide who should be at the helm in solving these problems.
Unlike in neighboring Singapore and Australia, where voting is obligatory, it is a democratic choice in Indonesia. You don’t go to jail if you don’t vote. Still, the government has campaigned hard to encourage as many people as possible to go out and vote. Wednesday has been declared a national holiday.
Indonesia can take pride in its status as the third-largest democracy in the world. Since it launched political reforms in 1998, it has held four presidential and legislative elections. Unlike in the past under the Soeharto regime, now voters elect their leaders directly, from presidents and governors down to regents and mayors. They have more power in deciding who should lead them, and they have the power to remove incumbents who fail to deliver through periodic elections.
Understandably, many are disappointed at the leaders that have emerged from the more open political system. Many of these democratically elected leaders have been arrested and convicted of corruption. Some things have barely changed in spite of democracy, and one of the things that has not changed is the level of corruption.
Voter turnout of between 50 and 60 percent in many past local elections indicates increasing public apathy. Turnout tends to be higher in national elections.
If apathy runs high (at least by Indonesia’s standards), that is because the democratic system has yet to deliver what the people want from their leaders: Effective, efficient and accountable government.
But if people go along with the notion that their votes don’t make a difference, then not only is Jakarta doomed to go the way of the US by handing victory to candidates of dubious quality, but democracy itself is in danger of crumbling if people lose faith in it.
As the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta is considered the barometer of the nation’s politics. What happens in this year’s election will have a bearing on the national political landscape, including the 2019 presidential election. President Joko Widodo won the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2012 with Ahok as his running mate. In 2014, he ran in the presidential race and won.
So to Jakartans who are registed to vote on Wednesday, we say please go out and vote and make a difference. Or we will all be sorry and have to wait for another five years to make good on our mistake.