[Updated at 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, Sep 22, 2020 for a correction in the 6th paragraph]
Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has reiterated the government's insistence on holding regional elections in December, a move that many feared would worsen the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia.
The most populous nation in Southeast Asia will hold elections for 270 cities, districts, and provinces on Dec 9. The occasions preceded with public gatherings, which epidemiologists said was the primary avenue for the Covid-19 to spread in the country.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhamaddiyah, two of the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia with a combined total membership of 70 million people, have called on the government over the weekend to delay the elections, at least until the country showed signs of success in reining in the pandemic.
Jokowi, however, still stood by the government's decision to carry on with the elections.
"The 2020 regional elections remain on schedule, on Dec 9, 2020, to protect the constitutional rights of the people, the right to vote and the right of being elected," the Presidential Spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said in a statement on Monday morning.
Hasto Kristiyanto, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said delaying the election "would only create another uncertainty." PDI-P has the most seat at the House of Representatives and currently backs the second largest number of candidates in the December elections, after Golkar Pary.
The power to change the election schedule resides in the House. The President could also change the schedule by issuing a presidential regulation in lieu of law under emergency conditions.
Fadjroel argued that some countries had shown that holding an election during the pandemic was possible.
"An election during a pandemic is not impossible. Other countries such as Singapore, Germany, France, and South Korea also hold general elections during a pandemic. Of course, with the implementation of strict health protocols," Fadjroel said.
Yet, the implementation of strict health protocol, or rather lack of it, was the crux of the election critic's arguments.
"The fact remains that many election organizers, at the central and regional levels, and the candidates in several regions, have been infected by Covid-19," NU chairman Said Aqil Siraj said in a statement on Sunday.
Pramono Ubaid Tanthowi, a commissioner of the General Election Commission (KPU), announced on Saturday that he was tested positive for Covid-19. A day earlier, KPU chairman Arief Budiman said he had the disease also. The novel coronavirus had infected at least 60 election candidates, the commission said on Sep 10.
"It is difficult to implement health protocols because there will be many concentrated masses at each stage of the election," Said Aqil said.
So, NU "called for KPU, the government, and the House of Representatives to the 2020 elections," Said Aqil said.
Muhammadiyah repeated NU's call on Monday. "For the national safety amid the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuring its proper implementation, KPU should consider delaying the 2020 regional elections until the situation permits it," Muhammadiyah chairman Haedar Nashir said in a statement.
Iwan Ariawan, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said recent data suggest that only a small number of Indonesians managed to implement health protocol consistently in their daily lives. Iwan said amid such condition, holding the elections would only lead to an explosion in covid-19 cases.
The university's most recent projection showed that Indonesia might detect close to 60,000 new cases daily, in the worst-case scenario by December, more than 15 times the number today.
"For the elections, the most important thing is to prevent crowds. I suggest no offline campaign activities. And if the elections must be held, manage the voting time so that not many people gather at one place at the same time," Iwan said.
Donny Gahral Adia, an advisor to the Presidential Staff Office, said later on Monday that President Jokowi heard all the arguments from political parties, civil organizations, and the epidemiologists. He said the President might issue a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) to change the election schedule.
"I think all views will be taken into consideration," Donny said.
Correction: The previous version of this article stated PDI-P backed the most candidates in December election. It is Golkar that backs most of the candidates. The Jakarta Globe regrets the error.