Indonesian elections 2014: Banned, but vote-buying still plagues election process

Indonesian elections 2014: Banned, but vote-buying still plagues election process

JAKARTA - When lawyer Taufik Basari visited constituents in his Jakarta district to distribute leaflets telling them why he deserved their vote, many asked him why the envelope was missing.

"Some residents opened the fold of the leaflet, expecting to find money, and asked 'Pak, where is the envelope?'," said the 37-year-old first-time legislative candidate for the National Democratic Party (NasDem).

"They are still expecting cash or generous handouts of groceries. But I tell them, a political office is a mandate. That cannot be bought - it is priceless."

His experience is not unusual. A recent survey by the Indikator Politik Indonesia found that four out of 10 Indonesians still find it acceptable for politicians to hand out money or staples like rice or oil, as part of campaigning.

A third of these said their vote would go to the candidate who did that.

Indeed, despite a ban on vote-buying, chances are it will surface again in this year's election campaign.

In 2009, vote-buying was the top violation recorded by police, making up a third of all election-related complaints.

Things may get worse this election as robust economic growth in recent years has filled campaign coffers to bursting with donations from tycoons for some candidates.

While there is a law capping the amount that an individual can contribute to candidates, analysts say enforcement is weak.

The result is that candidates flush with money are likely to ramp up efforts to woo voters with cash and kind.

Indonesia's law defines vote-buying as handing out cash or other items in an effort to influence votes.

The penalty is a maximum fine of 48 million rupiah (S$5,363) and four years' jail.

But tough sanctions alone will not be enough to guarantee a clean campaign, said Mr Abdullah Dahlan of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), whose outfit campaigned in 15 of the country's 33 provinces recently to raise awareness about the issue.

"Our monitoring shows this practice is still widespread," he told The Straits Times. "People's mindsets have yet to change. Many find it odd if a politician doesn't give them something. It is a two-way street."

This expectation from voters certainly adds to the burden of candidates, who have to set aside money for "goodie bags" of food staples and cash handouts of about 50,000 rupiah to 100,000 rupiah for each individual on walkabouts.

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