Rising campaigning costs open poll candidates to graft

A banner promoting presidential candidate Joko Widodo being paraded on a motorcycle in Surabaya. Campaigning costs are high in Indonesia, given the large areas that candidates have to cover.

A CANDIDATE in Indonesia's general election on April 9 will have to spend at least 1.18 billion rupiah (S$132,000) to campaign, four times the sum needed five years ago, said a team of economists from the University of Indonesia.

The amount is equivalent to an MP's take-home pay for a year.

But as many candidates spend far more than this, they may be tempted to recoup this "investment" by corrupt means once they are elected, said Dr Teguh Dartanto of the university's Institute for Economic and Social Research on Wednesday. He was addressing a forum organised by the Policy Research Network, which brings together several think-tanks.

The high cost of campaigning has come under the spotlight as Indonesia's five-yearly election season gets under way. Observers are increasingly concerned that if this situation is left unchecked, public confidence in the country's democratic institutions will drop further.

At a separate forum organised by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi resurfaced the idea of government funding for campaign activity to crimp the temptation for graft.

"State finances are strong, politics is expensive, the state can play a role here. Why not just come up with 15 trillion rupiah? We can monitor the regulations together," he said.

Currently, political parties hardly receive any funding from the state. Candidates have to dig into their funds, borrow or turn to large donors such as conglomerates to finance the cost of printing leaflets and banners, hiring equipment for campaign rallies, and buying food, drinks and T-shirts for campaign volunteers and supporters.

Costs are also high because Indonesia's system combines an element of proportional representation, unlike in some countries where an MP is elected from a single constituency.

Here, aspiring MPs have to cover larger areas to woo voters as an electoral district can comprise between three and 10 seats.

Others also advertise on TV and newspapers during the three-week campaign period.

Turning to large donors often leaves elected MPs beholden to benefactors, who expect favours when it comes to tenders for government projects, analysts say.

The election commission requires parties and candidates to report their accounts. Donations from individuals are capped at 1 billion rupiah and those from organisations at 7.5 billion rupiah.

But enforcement is often a problem, say observers.

Dr Philips Vermonte of Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies finds that the high financial burden of campaigning also gets in the way of sound policymaking.

"The state has to foot some of the cost of political outreach and education," he says.


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