Candidates who lost in polls demand gifts back

Election monitoring agency staff campaigning in Surabaya on the eve of the April 9 legislative election, urging voters to reject money politics. Indonesia Corruption Watch has counted 313 cases in 15 provinces of vote-buying and election-related graft during the campaign period.

When a local assembly candidate in South Sulawesi found out she had lost the election, she sent her assistants to demand that residents to whom she had given stoves and other gifts to secure their votes return them immediately.

A street hawker who received a gas stove from Democratic Party member Andi Farida Soewandi was so irate - he was boiling water to make coffee for customers - that he smashed the stove onto the pavement.

Mr Zaenal told reporters that while he had voted for Ms Andi, his wife chose another candidate. "What do we do, we also get gifts from others, so we split our vote."

Several other candidates around the country who lost also demanded their gifts back, and in a West Sulawesi district, these included donations to renovate a mosque.

In Pasuruan, East Java, a losing Gerindra Party candidate blew the whistle on 13 election officials she had given money to, to help inflate the number of votes she got, after it turned out the money had no effect.

Ms Agustina Amprawati said she gave them 117 million rupiah (S$12,800) in all for each of them to add 5,000 to 8,000 votes to her tally.

"I'm prepared for the consequences," she told reporters at the local election commission. "I am ready to go to jail with the 13 officials who have cheated and promised a win and additional votes."

All 13 officials have been relieved of their duties.

Stories like these have made the headlines in recent days, and come as vote counts for the April 9 general election are completed at the local level and the tallying of votes nationwide began yesterday.

Although these examples do not represent how the election as a whole went, officials and watchdogs are concerned that more such instances of vote-buying and election-related graft have surfaced, with Indonesia Corruption Watch counting 313 cases in 15 provinces during the campaign period, compared with 150 it detected in 2009.

Observers note that voters may be more open to reporting such cases, but are concerned that the situation could also be getting worse.

"Money politics in this election is massive, vulgar and brutal compared to previous elections. People have become very permissive and this is done blatantly," Ms Wahidah Suaib, an adviser to governance reform outfit Kemitraan and a former member of the national election supervisory board (Bawaslu), told a Bawaslu hearing last week.

While candidates are willing to splurge, there are also election officials who have offered to help candidates get more votes in exchange for cash, Ms Wahidah added.

"Few care or dare to disclose this openly and report it to local regulatory authorities," she said.

Vocal Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) MP Eva Kusuma Sundari, who lost her East Java district seat, described the situation as "no longer one man, one vote, but one envelope, one vote", referring to the practice of candidates handing out cash in envelopes on the eve of voting.

Other politicians have recounted anecdotes of how they were asked for cash by counting officials.

United Development Party (PPP) MP Ahmad Yani said he scolded South Sumatra officials for suggesting that it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to be re-elected, and for offering additional votes for 30,000 rupiah each.

Under Indonesian law, those who promise money or other materials to voters can be jailed for up to four years and fined up to 48 million rupiah. Those who cause candidates to get more or fewer votes face similar penalties.

Elected MPs found to have bought their seats can have their win rescinded on conviction.

Police spokesman Agus Rianto said on Thursday that 62 candidates have been declared suspects for election offences and are under investigation.

Observers note that poverty leads to voters caving in to efforts to buy their votes, often for as little as 5,000 rupiah a person.

But the high cost of buying a large number of votes also means officials elected by doing so have to find ways to recoup their spending during their five years in office, perpetuating a cycle of corruption.

Said Indonesia Corruption Watch researcher Abdullah Dahlan: "This is a threat to the democracy we are still building."

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.

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