Flight Discounts For Voters
Jokowi and Prabowo’s camps are pursuing all avenues to prevent their supporters from abstaining. Their methods seem to fail among human rights activists.
LATELY, Franz Magnis-Suseno’s advice has been a go-to mantra for deputy chairman of the Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin campaign team, Arsul Sani. Via WhatsApp, Arsul forwarded the Jesuit pastor’s advice to human rights activists who are openly declaring their plan to abstain from voting.
Before the 2014 presidential election, Father Magnis said elections are not meant to choose the best but rather to prevent the worst from coming to power. At the time, Joko Widodo-Jusuf Kalla and Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa were competing for the presidential and vice-presidential seats. Among those who received Arsul’s message was founder of the Lokataru Foundation, Haris Azhar. “Arsul urged me not to abstain,” Haris told us last Monday.
According to Haris, the House of Representatives Legal Affairs Commission member from the United Development Party (PPP) also warned against the risks of abstaining, namely that the administration and legislators elected to run the country in the next period will ignore demands from groups who abstain from voting. Arsul also urged Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid to not abstain. “We had a conversation after speaking on a private television [channel],” said Usman.
But these urgings have not been effective. One day after receiving Arsul’s message, the Lokataru Foundation and a number of other organizations, such as the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, declared abstention as a political expression two Wednesdays ago. They believe that abstention must not be criminalized. Haris said the abstention movement is a manifestation of disappointment in the two presidential-vice-presidential pairs, over their inadequate regard for the fulfillment of human rights. This lack of attention, said Haris, was apparent in the first presidential debate held in mid-January.
When we met him last Wednesday, Arsul was reluctant to comment extensively on his appeal to human rights activists. “I have already conveyed this to the public,” said the PPP secretary-general. Arsul said abstention is an issue that receives much attention from the Jokowi-Ma’ruf campaign team. The incumbent’s campaign team has been aware of Jokowi supporters’ potential for abstention since last August, when Jokowi chose Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
Ma’ruf is seen as a vice-presidential candidate who is difficult to accept by minority groups. There is also a belief that supporters of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama have trouble accepting the former general chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), as they view Ma’aruf as having played a role in Basuki’s imprisonment over religious blasphemy. An MUI edict, or fatwa, issued by Ma’ruf calls Basuki’s statement mentioning Surah Al-Ma’idah verse 51 an insult of the Qur’an and ulemas.
After Jokowi chose Ma’ruf as his running mate, the President’s public approval rate declined. A survey by the Populi Center found his popularity at 55.3 percent last October, or down from 60.6 percent in July the same year. Undecided and potential abstaining voters have increased from 10.5 percent to 15.6 percent.
In an interview with us in early December last year, Ma’ruf admitted that Ahokers—Basuki’s supporters—were surprised that Jokowi chose him. The former leader of Nahdlatul Ulama claimed he no longer had an issue with Basuki. “The problem with Ahok is over.”
Deputy chairman of the Jokowi-Ma’ruf campaign team, Ahmad Rofiq, said his ‘champion’ repeatedly warned against abstention potential and urged the team to increase voter turnout. According to Rofiq, Jokowi delivered the message during a meeting with secretary-generals of his supporting parties at the Grand Melia Hotel in Jakarta in early December 2018, and in early January this year in the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport Complex, East Jakarta. Rofiq believes that abstention can potentially cause Jokowi to lose as it may influence undecided and swing voters.
Jokowi-Ma’ruf campaign team’s political communications director, Usman Kansong, said his camp is attempting to analyze groups with the most potential to abstain, among others millennials who are showing an interest in a fictional presidential-vice-presidential pair, Nurhadi-Aldo. According to Usman, millennials will potentially choose to leave for a long weekend—to make use of Good Friday two days after election day—rather than to exercise their right to vote on April 17.
Haris said the abstention movement is a manifestation of disappointment in the two presidential-vice-presidential pairs, over their inadequate regard for the fulfillment of human rights.
To prevent millennials from abstaining, said Usman, Jokowi’s team is planning to add more programs that the group favors, for example, giving away discounts for flight or train tickets for those who come to voting booths. “But we have to consult with the General Elections Commission (KPU) first,” said Usman. KPU member Wahyu Setiawan said the strategy may be applied as long as companies providing discounts and affiliated with the candidate pair are registered with KPU.
According to Usman, Jokowi’s team is also attempting to alter their communication strategy in response to abstention. At first, Usman explained, Jokowi’s supporters had a tendency to attack those who are pro abstention. “Now we are trying to explain that abstaining is harmful. We are also campaigning for the movement to vote for the best presidential candidate.”
Usman added that the campaign team is making an effort to involve a number of public figures to fight abstention, among others, former chairman of the Constitutional Court, Mahfud Md. Two Fridays ago at the Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Mahfud stated that abstaining is harmful as it gives greater opportunity to those who will choose the worse candidate. He urged the public to cast their vote for the better candidate. “To vote is a constitutional gift,” he said. Mahfud did not respond to our request to interview him about his efforts to battle abstention.
The Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno camp is also facing the challenges of swing voters and abstention. These issues emerged after a video of Prabowo dancing at a Christmas celebration circulated and a rumor spread that Prabowo never performs Friday prayer. PoliticaWave, a social media monitoring institution, recorded 641 Twitter conversations containing urgings to abstain one day after Christmas. The number rose from 293 conversations of the same tune the day before.
Member of Gerindra Party advisory council, Muhammad Syafi’i, said party figures and ulemas have been enlisted to clarify, to keep responses to these issues at bay. The campaigner for the Prabowo-Sandi campaign team said he has traveled to numerous regions, such as Bogor and Cianjur in West Java, Central Sulawesi, Aceh, as well as Lampung, to address the people. “I explained that Pak Prabowo joined his family’s Christmas celebration, not a religious ritual. And Pak Prabowo also performs Friday prayer diligently,” said Syafi’i.