More than 100 million Indonesians go to the polls in regional elections

A soldier helps a boy put on a face mask during an event to mark the transitional period of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in East Jakarta on June 26. The boy was with his father (back, left), who was found violating PSBB measures and ordered to sweep the area as punishment. (JP/P.J.Leo). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SINGAPORE, Nov 9, 2020, ST. More than 100 million Indonesians will cast their ballots for regional leaders across the country on Wednesday (Dec 9), after a three-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Straits Times reported.

Voters will elect nine governors, 224 regents, and 37 mayors – collectively known as regional heads – who run with their deputies as a pair in simultaneous regional elections known as “pilkada” in Bahasa Indonesia.

More than 700 candidate pairs will be competing in the single-day poll, which in most cases use a first-past-the-post, or winner-takes-all, electoral system in which candidates with the most votes win. Uncontested candidate pairs must garner a majority of the votes.

While there is no law restricting anyone, including relatives of state officials and political figures, from running, public attention has been focused on candidates with links to the country’s movers and shakers.

Well-connected candidates include President Joko Widodo’s eldest son, Mr Gibran Rakabuming Raka, and his son-in-law, Mr Bobby Afif Nasution, who are running in mayoral races in Solo, a city in Central Java which is the president’s hometown, and Medan, in North Sumatra, respectively.

Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin’s daughter, Ms Siti Nur Azizah, will vie for mayor of South Tangerang, in Banten, while Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto’s niece, Ms Rahayu Saraswati Djojohadikusumo, will run for the deputy mayor post there.

While the outcome of the pilkada will not affect policymaking at the national level, the government hopes the elected heads will be able to implement strategic initiatives in their regions to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Indonesia, home to 270 million people, has recorded more than half a million confirmed cases and 18,000 fatalities – the highest in Southeast Asia on both counts.

Among the biggest concerns about holding the election during a pandemic is the potential uncontrolled spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as well as low voter turnout, which could compromise the integrity of the results.

Like any election, the pilkada is a mammoth logistical undertaking. More than two million poll workers will be deployed to nearly 300,000 polling stations across the archipelago.

Of the total 309 regencies and cities holding elections, 45 are in high-risk “red zones” and 152 are in moderate-risk “orange zones”.

Epidemiologists have warned that the election may trigger new clusters of Covid-19 infection, while critics have called for new rules and regulations to ensure the safety of voters, candidates as well as officials.

But the election has already been postponed from its original scheduled date of Sept 23. And Mr Joko will not delay it further.

He wrote on Facebook in November: “I hope the pilkada will not disrupt our larger duty to solve the Covid-19 and economic problems.”

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