Jakarta. Indonesia earned a lot of praise for holding largely peaceful presidential and legislative elections on the same day last month. But aside from costing the government an arm and a leg, a total of Rp 24.9 trillion or $1.7 billion, the biggest and most complex single-day elections in the world have also exacted an even more horrific toll: more than 400 dead election officials, who lost their lives on duty reportedly from fatigue and stress-related illnesses. And more than a few people are up in arms about it.
"Whoever is elected as the next government has to fix the Election Law," former Constitutional Court judge Mahfud M.D. said on Thursday. Mahfud is now an advisor at the Agency for the Implementation of State Ideology Pancasila (BPIP).
He said the new administration should submit the revisions of the Election Law to the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) during the first year of its term to ensure the changes can be implemented before the next election in 2024.
Mahfud were speaking to reporters after attending a meeting with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and other BPIP advisors at the State Palace in Jakarta.
The meeting was also attended by the chairman of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, Said Aqil Siraj, former chairman of the country's second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, Ahmad Syafii Maarif and former Vice President Try Sutrisno.
World’s Most Complex Singe-Day Elections
Indonesia held the biggest and most complex single-day elections in the world on April 17, with 192 million registered voters flocking into 810,000 polling stations across 34 provinces in the country and also overseas.
Around 5.6 million election officials were employed to ensure the "democracy party" go smoothly.
Voters in all provinces, except the capital Jakarta, had to fill in five separate ballots, one to elect a president and vice president, one to elect members of the House of Representatives (DPR), one to elect members of the Provincial Representative Council (DPRD I), one to elect members of the Regional Representative Council (DPRD II) and another one to elect members of the Regional Legislative Council (DPD).
Voters in Jakarta were not required to elect a Regional Representative Council.
But below the surface, the elections hide uncomfortable truths of punishing labor by millions of poorly paid part-time workers and security forces who break their backs to ensure that every vote is cast and accounted for.
According to the 2017 Election Law, the counting of the votes at each polling station must be completed on the same day as they are cast.
Election day might be a fun day for voters, who could even take advantage of government-sponsored in-store discounts by showing their ink-stained pinkie, but for many election officials it was 24 hours of back-breaking work.
General Elections Commission (KPU) and Election Supervisory Agency (Panwas) officials had to record the tally from each polling station in a long and complicated vote tally form called the C1.
The election officials worked under immense pressure. By law, the slightest mistake or irregularity could land them in prison. Many of them suffered from fatigue, having to stay up for nearly 24 hours counting and recounting thousands of ballots, and reporting the results accurately to the KPU.
The death toll from the elections has now reached 500. This includes 456 Polling Station Committee (KPPS) officials, 92 Panwas officials and 22 police officers, including a one-star police general. It does not include thousands who fell ill and were admitted to hospitals.
The KPU has scrambled a compensation fund of Rp 40-50 billion ($2.8-3.5 million) for the grieving families, but it has not been enough to silence critics who demand wholesale changes on how the "democracy party" is run.
Flashback: Why Did We Have to Have Simultaneous Elections?
The Constitutional Court (MK) ruled in January 2014 that the presidential and legislative elections should be held on the same day in 2019.
The ruling came after a group of activists and academics who called themselves the Coalition of Civil Society for Simultaneous Elections put the 2008 Election Law through a judicial review.
This older election law stipulated that legislative and presidential elections should be held separately with at least a three-month interval between them.
Members of this group included political communications expert Effendi Gazali, constitutional law expert Irman Putra Sidin, activist Ray Rangkuti, anti-graft activist Saldi Isra and political analyst Hamdi Muluk.
The group argued that holding the legislative election before the presidential election typically triggered short-term coalitions whose sole purpose was to nominate a presidential candidate.
This, according to the group, limited the role of the House of Representatives as supervisors of the executive branch of government.
The group also argued that holding the elections simultaneously will also save trillions from the state coffers.
The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the judicial review and caused major changes in Indonesia's electoral system, the effects of which are only being felt now.
The House of Representatives approved the changes in July 2017 and produced the 7/2017 Election Law bill. President Jokowi passed it into law in August 2017.
One of the key outcomes of this legal product was that this year political parties concentrated more on securing seats at the parliament, rather than jockeying for the presidency and vice presidency.
Political parties had to win at least four percent of the vote in the legislative election to secure seats in the DPR.
According to quick count results, seven parties out of the 16 contesting the election are expected to fail to pass the four percent parliamentary threshold.
Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said on Tuesday the government will evaluate the entire process of the 2019 elections. However, changes are only possible once the country gets its new legislators.
"Once we have a new House of Representative, we will evaluate the elections in detail," Tjahjo said in Jakarta.
However, the senior politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), President Jokowi's main political backer and the expected winner of the legislative election, seems to dismiss the idea of revising the law, saying "I don’t think we have to change [the law], but we do have to synchronize and harmonize it with the dynamics of each election."
More Simultaneous Elections in 2024?
Tjahjo said the current Election Law actually requires the regional election to be held at the same time as the presidential and legislative ones.
The KPU was spared the complication this year by a deal between the DPR and the government which ruled out holding the three elections simultaneusly.
Tjahjo said electronic voting can be the way forward in upcoming elections, if the Election Law is not revised.
He said the government had already made preparations for electronic voting, but decided to postpone its implementation due to Indonesia's unfavorable geography and still unreliable telecommunications network.
"One thing that we need to consider in the next five years is the possibility of e-voting," Tjahjo said.
Communications expert Effendi Gazali told Beritasatu.com that he blames legislators and the government for being slow in making necessary revisions to the Election Law, which in turn made them unable to do proper preparations and simulations for the elections this year.
"They had five years and two months since the Constitutional Court made the ruling in January 2014," he said.
In that time, the government and lawmakers should have revised the Election Law, established KPU's roles in details and held proper simulations of the elections, according to Effendi.
A proper simulation would have shown the government what qualities to look for in an election official. "They can put those in the contract, the work hours, the risks, the facilities. Will they get health benefits, free meals, long enough breaks? Also, will they get insurance?" he said.
Driven by concerns over the high death toll among election officials in the 2019 elections, the DPD – the legislative body whose job is to make sure that laws drawn by the government or the House of Representatives do not compromise regional interests – held a meeting to evaluate the elections on Tuesday.
DPD chairman Oesman Sapta Oedang told reporters after the meeting that the DPD will be pushing for separate legislative and presidential elections.
"It would be better if the elections are not combined. This year voters did not pay enough attention to the legislative election. Many of them did not even know who they were voting for," he said.
"We've started our own evaluation. We'll study the elections in detail and push the government, DPR and DPD to sit down together to revise the Election law," he said.
National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian, who also attended the DPD meeting, raised the issue of a long, drawn-out presidential campaign that drained the energy and resources of the National Police.
The police were responsible for the security of a presidential campaign season that ran for a full eight months. Aside from security on the ground, the police also had to deal with online hoaxes and fake news.
Tito suggested the presidential campaign period should be cut to one month. This way there will be less chance of "polarization" and violent clashes between rival camps.
Writing by Muhamad Al Azhari