Indonesia should set example for region during election season, Southeast Asian MPs say


Indonesia should set example for region during election season, Southeast Asian MPs say

JAKARTA – As the campaign period for the 2024 general elections kicks off in Indonesia, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) calls on all candidates to compete in a fair and peaceful manner. APHR also reminds Indonesian state institutions to remain neutral.

As the largest nation in the region, ASEAN countries often look to Indonesia as a model. We hope that all participants in the upcoming elections – candidates, parties, and officials – can be a positive example for young democracies across Southeast Asia and around the world,” APHR Co-chair and former Malaysian member of parliament Charles Santiago said today.

Three presidential and vice presidential candidate pairings have been officially registered and are set to compete for the top executive position. Meanwhile, 18 national political parties – as well as six local Aceh parties – will be vying for 20,614 legislative seats at the national, provincial, and local levels. The campaign period starts on 28 November and the elections are scheduled to take place on 14 February 2024. 

The presidential tickets consist of former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and Deputy House of Representatives Speaker Muhaimin Iskandar; Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Surakarta Mayor – and son of incumbent President Joko Widodo – Gibran Rakabuming Raka; and former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo and Coordinating Minister for Legal and Political Affairs (Menkopolhukam) Mahfud MD.

It is of the utmost importance that state institutions maintain strict neutrality during the campaign and election period, especially since many of the candidates are current government officials. Any appearance of impropriety can affect the public’s perception of the legitimacy of the elections,” said Santiago. 

In previous elections, opposing candidates supporters’ often reported each other to the police using vague provisions in laws like the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, which has been criticized by civil society organizations for violating freedom of expression and which APHR has previously called to be revised. Several members of the Ganjar-Mahfud campaign team have already been reported to the police under the ITE Law for criticizing other candidates and the government.

We urge all candidates and parties to ask their supporters to refrain from using legal harassment in response to criticism from political opponents. A sharp exchange of opinions is normal during elections and should be welcomed as part of the democratic process,” said Santiago. “Nevertheless, we also urge candidates to steer clear of smear campaigns and other underhanded tactics that will only result in unnecessary rancor.”

Meanwhile, vote-buying remains a widespread problem in Indonesia, with a 2019 study finding that 33 percent of voters had received money or goods in exchange for their votes during the 2014 legislative elections.

Candidates and parties should engage in issue-based campaigning and avoid vote-buying and other forms of transactional politics; these tactics not only harm democracy but have also been proven to be ineffective,” said Santiago. “We also call on election management bodies and other law enforcement agencies to maintain a level playing field by enforcing all rules fairly.”

The 2024 elections will be Indonesia’s fifth direct presidential election and the sixth legislative election since the start of the Reformasi era in 1998. 

Indonesia’s democracy and civil society has come far since the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime 25 years ago . However, in recent years many academics and activists have raised concerns about the country’s democratic backsliding and shrinking civic space. We hope that Indonesia can use these elections to alleviate those concerns, rather than compound them,” said Santiago.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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