Jokowi worried about vote fraud and intimidation

Presidential candidate Joko Widodo says he is concerned about intimidation tactics and attempts to manipulate the vote in favour of his opponent at next Wednesday's presidential election.

Mr Joko, commonly known as Jokowi, told The Straits Times that his campaign has set up a task force of volunteers to monitor and report attempts to cheat and buy votes ahead of July 9, and it now has a presence in every province and city.

"Some groups are 2,000-strong, others 1,000- strong, yet others 500," he said in an interview at a rest stop after a visit to an Islamic boarding school in Banten on Tuesday night. "People do not need to fear intimidation. But they have to guard polling stations, and monitor the vote count," he added.

Mr Joko's caution about intimidation and vote fraud comes as observers and members of his campaign team said they have received reports of civil servants being threatened with penalties if they don't cooperate and neighbourhood heads being pressured to get residents to vote for Mr Prabowo, tactics reminiscent of the Suharto era.

But Prabowo campaign team spokesman Sudrajat, a retired major-general, dismissed such reports, telling The Straits Times that the authorities have been ordered to stay neutral and those found to have breached the rules will be punished.

Nevertheless, the Jokowi campaign remains sceptical, citing how their opponent is doing whatever it can to catch up. Opinion polls show Mr Joko's lead thinning to as little as 3 percentage points nationwide. Mr Joko said he was not ruffled by this week's decision by the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to back Mr Prabowo, but said: "The election has to be honest, fair, and shouldn't see anyone using power to meddle in the polls."

Last month, the Indonesian army was swift to act in sentencing a corporal to 21 days' detention for asking voters in a central Jakarta neighbourhood who they would vote for and implying they should back Mr Prabowo. His commander, an infantry captain, received a warning and a bar from promotion for six months. Since then, local media has reported several instances of alleged intimidation by other local officials especially in West Java, which is governed by Prabowo campaign member Ahmad Heryawan of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Yesterday and today, Mr Joko is campaigning in West Java, where an opinion poll by the Indonesian Survey Circle found him trailing behind Mr Prabowo by 8 percentage points.

Mr Iwan Setiawan, who founded civil society alliance Almisbat, told the Quran Tempo newspaper that residents organising a gathering to declare support for Mr Joko in Garut, West Java on Sunday were told not to hang any poster of the candidate by local officials, who said it would incite clashes among residents. He was also summoned to a police station several times for questioning before the event to try to talk him into cancelling it, and said plainclothes officials hung around at the event.

But Mr Sudrajat argued fears of vote-rigging had no basis, saying such claims had become the normal practice of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle. "PDI-P has never won a presidential election. Whenever they lose, they say vote-rigging, they don't want to accept defeat," he said.

On the other hand, supporters of Mr Joko said this election is different, citing the enthusiastic reception he continues to get on the campaign trail.

Lawyer Rumbi Sitompul, 53, a member of the anti-cheating task force in Banten, said they had made plans to station at least one volunteer at every polling station to monitor and photograph the vote tally, and report violations that may have gone unchallenged before - including on social media.

This article was first published on July 03, 2014.
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