With campaigns in full swing, Bawaslu becomes scapegoat for foul play

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia's Election Supervisory Agency's (Bawaslu) neutrality has been in questions following the recent decision in campaign rules violations.

The naming of opposition camp supporter and 212 Alumni Brotherhood (PA 212) chairman Slamet Ma'arif as a suspect for violating campaign rules has triggered questions about the Election Supervisory Agency's (Bawaslu) neutrality, or lack thereof.

Slamet, who is a member of the Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno campaign team, is alleged to have violated Article 280 of the 2017 General Elections Law for campaigning outside a schedule set by the General Elections Commission (KPU) by taking part in a mass gathering held by the PA 212 supporters in Surakarta, Central Java on Jan. 13.

In his speech at the gathering, Slamet mentioned the #2019GantiPresiden ( 2019ChangePresident ) movement, which prompted Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin campaign team member Her Suprabu to report Slamet to the Bawaslu, which later handed the case over to the police.

Prabowo campaign team members have raised questions about the validity of the case against Slamet.

"[The campaign team] will defend [Slamet] to the end," Gerindra Party deputy chairman and House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Fadli Zon said on Monday. "What happened is just administrative in nature; there's no need to criminalize it. [Jokowi's campaign team] also committed many violations that have not been followed up on."

Fadli also previously insinuated that the Bawaslu had been selective in picking which campaign suspected campaign violations to pursue.

"If [Jakarta governor] Anies Baswedan is interrogated for using a two-finger gesture than why aren't the [regents in North Maluku and West Sumatra] that have declared support for Jokowi interrogated as well?" he said last week.

The Jokowi campaign team has denied the allegations that the government had ever intervened with the Bawaslu or other law enforcement decisions.

"I object if every legal matter is called criminalization because we have all been reported [to law enforcement]," Jokowi campaign chairman Erick Thohir said on Tuesday. "The president has been reported, I have been reported."

The central Bawaslu headquarters has received 35 reports of presidential campaign violations since the campaign period began last September. Fifteen of the reports were filed against the Prabowo-Sandiaga team while 18 were filed against the Jokowi-Ma'ruf camp. One report did not name a defendant while one other was filed against both the Prabowo and Jokowi teams.

So far, none of the violations reported against either team have resulted in sanctions, with many not being registered at all because they did not constitute a prima facie campaign violation and others were halted for lack of evidence. The seven most recent reports are still currently being processed, with six filed against the Prabowo team and one against the Jokowi team.

Regional Bawaslu offices have recorded more suspected violations, with 2,153 presidential and legislative election campaign violations catalogued across Indonesia as of the end of 2018, with 1,363 of those violations being for campaigning without written permission from local authorities.

Very few of those have resulted in criminal proceedings, however. Nine legislative candidates have been named a suspect in criminal cases in relation to the campaign: four members of the opposition coalition and five members of the pro-government coalition. Slamet's case is the first presidential election campaign violation to be brought to court.

Bawaslu member Ratna Dewi Pettalolo said she did not know all the details regarding Slamet's case as it was being handled by the local Bawaslu Surakarta branch but denied that the Bawaslu was biased against either presidential campaign.

"We have a mechanism to process violations as transparently as possible and the decision on whether a violation constitutes a crime is made by Gakkumdu [Integrated Law Enforcement] team, which includes police and prosecutors," she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. "So, it is not solely our decision."

Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) researcher Fadli Ramadhanil said it was not right to conclude that the Bawaslu was not neutral based on Slamet’s case.

"According to the 2017 Election Law, mass gathering campaigns are only allowed to be held 21 days before the quiet period, so if there's an indication that someone has violated that, then it must be followed up on," he told the Post. "The Bawaslu can only be said to be biased if it does not follow up on similar indications from the opposing camp, and I have not seen evidence of that so far."

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