A mother and her children drive past a billboard with 2024 general election promotional material on Aug. 11, 2023, in Cibinong, Bogor regency, West Java. (Antara/Yulius Satria Wijaya)
The Jakarta Post
Billboards showing smiling public officials in formal outfits and political party attire have been dotting the streets of Jakarta and other cities, months before the election of a new president, vice president and legislature. We do not know how much the advertisements cost, but we do know that only those with financial power and political clout can afford them.
The fairness of the upcoming contest for public office is in doubt as violations have already been rampant before the race even begins. And to add insult to injury, cabinet ministers who are vying for public office in the presidential and legislative elections do not have to resign from their current positions.
Earlier this week President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo reconfirmed his decision to let his aides, who will run as candidates in the February election, retain their jobs if they take a leave of absence while campaigning. The President’s policy is in line with a Constitutional Court decision from October of last year that annulled a clause in the 2017 Election Law that required ministers contesting the presidential race to resign. The court now orders the ministers to ask for the President’s consent in taking leave.
Several cabinet ministers are gearing up to run in the presidential election, including Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who has declared his intention to run for president for the third time. Prabowo, who chairs Gerindra Party, has consolidated his support through the Indonesia Forward Coalition, an alliance which also includes Golkar Party, the National Mandate Party, the Gelora Party, the Cresent Star Party (PBB) and the Garuda Party. Other ministers, such as State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir and Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno have been touted as vice-presidential candidates. Golkar nominated its party chairman, Coordinating Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto, as a presidential candidate, but after it joined the coalition to support Prabowo’s presidential bid, it will need to fight for Airlangga to be Prabowo’s running mate.
Five ministers and four deputy ministers have been registered as legislative candidates by their respective political parties, including Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah and Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Minister Abdul Halim Iskandar of the National Mandate Party, Youth and Sports Minister Dito Ariotedjo of Golkar, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H Laoly of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo of the NasDem Party. Deputy Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Angela Tanoesoedibjo of the Indonesian Unity Party (Perindo), Deputy Manpower Minister Afriansyah Ferry Noor of PBB, Deputy Home Minister John Wempi Wetipo of PDI-P and Deputy Trade Minister Jerry Sambuaga of Golkar will also vie for legislative seats.
Jokowi said the ministers could remain in their current positions despite their political ambitions as long as they do not use government facilities for their campaigns. Such a statement of course constitutes oversimplification because public officials can easily disguise their misuse of government facilities as official trips, as has been widely practiced in the past.
The ministers and deputy ministers may also allocate parts of the state budget to buy airtime or spaces in print and online media in order to promote their achievements prior to the election day in a bid to woo voters. Or they may ask their subordinates to help them campaign in exchange for promotions. Politicians know how to master the tricks of evading election regulations.
Sadly, the election supervisory body cannot do much to act against rampant ethical violations committed by public officials because the campaign session has not yet started. The obvious conflict of interest will continue and perhaps go unpunished even during the official campaign period of Nov. 28, 2023, to Feb. 10, 2024.
For the sake of the fairness and credibility of the elections, the ministers and deputy ministers should resign. If they are committed to democracy, they will do so.
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