Indonesia 'money politics' greases election machine

Some 192 million Indonesians are set to vote next week


Afp April 09, 2019
This picture taken on March 28, 2019 shows Basariah Panjaitan (L), deputy chairperson of the corruption eradication commission (KPK), seated alongside KPK officers along with boxes of Indonesian currency totalling over 560,000 USD, seized from a lawmaker's office, during a press conference in Jakarta ahead of the country's general elections. PHOTO: AFP

BOGOR: When Indonesian authorities arrested a politician with some 400,000 cash-filled envelopes, it was a stark reminder that a long-time election staple is alive and well in the corruption-riddled country -- vote buying.

Bowo Sidik Pangarso was detained last month for alleged embezzlement from a fertiliser firm, but officials also discovered the lawmaker had boxes stuffed with envelopes of low-denomination notes totalling about 8 billion rupiah ($565,000).

Graft-busters suspect the cash was earmarked for a so-called "Dawn Attack" -- a widespread ploy in the Southeast Asian archipelago where people receive cash early on voting day in a bid to sway their ballot choice.

Some 192 million Indonesians are set to vote next week across the world's third-biggest democracy, electing officials from local legislators to president.

Indonesia is riddled with corruption at all levels of society and its parliament is widely viewed as one of its most graft-hit institutions -- even two decades after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, among the most corrupt in history.

With a record 245,000 candidates in the running, the April 17 poll presents a huge challenge for the Corruption Eradication Commission which is already probing dozens of vote-buying cases.

"The (Pangarso) case proved that politics and corruption are still closely linked," said Almas Syafrina, a researcher at Indonesia Corruption Watch.

"It's not enough just give money to 100 people. (Corrupt candidates) need to give money to as many as they can, hoping that they'll vote for them."

Sapta Firdaus, a 37-year-old legislator in Sumatra's Bengkulu province, learned the reality of vote buying when he first ran for office in 2014.

"So many people asked me for money," he told AFP.

"They said 'how much are you willing to pay for our support?'"
But it wasn't just strangers he met going door to door -- some of the politician's own family demanded cash too.
"It's become a habit in our society to ask for rewards for anything," he said.
As many as one in three Indonesians were exposed to vote buying in the 2014 election, by some estimates.
Many candidates defend direct handouts as simply "turnout buying" to ensure already-loyal supporters go to the ballot box, according to 2017 research in the Journal of East Asian Studies.

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