Indonesian politics is reserved for the wealthy and the elite. That could be about to change.
By Oliver Ward
Cash is the lubricant that keeps the engine of Indonesian politics in motion. It flows between candidates, parties and the communities themselves. It is also the gatekeeper that decides who will run for office. But Indonesian authorities have set their sights on eradicating this ugly “cash” politics.
Indonesian politics is a constant stream of payments
Indonesians will go to the polls at the 2018 regional elections. 160 million people will vote in Indonesia’s largest single-day election.
But to reach election day, a candidate must grease all the right palms. Every step of the Indonesian political process requires an illegal or backhanded payment.
When a candidate decides to run as a regional head, they have to pay “ticket money”. Ticket money goes to the political party they wish to run for. The size of the transaction depends on the office the candidate is running for. Gerindra Party chairman Prabowo Subianto allegedly asked La Nyalla Mattalitti for RP40 billion (US$2.8 million) in exchange for nominating Myattalitti in the 2018 East Java gubernatorial race. The candidate has to pay extra if they want to run in a specific electoral district.
Then, during the election race, the candidate will make payments to the community. The more donations a candidate makes to the community, the better the people receive them. This donation can be financial. It could also be equipment for a local religious building or emergency service. When Ahok ran for governor, his team handed out free groceries to the public. This blatant vote buying is taking place across the country.
No party is exempt
Cash politics is commonplace across the political spectrum. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has billed itself as an anti-corruption party. It has also asked for illegal payments from its candidates.
PKS dropped Brig. Gen. Siswandi as its candidate for the election for Cirebon mayor. He had refused to pay the party the money the party asked for.
All parties deny asking for illegal payments. There have been many high-profile testimonies from those who made donations.
The large outlay during elections makes candidates more susceptible to corruption in office
With so many transactions, elections are costly to candidates. They will recover funds where they can.
Big businesses capitalise on this. They often transfer large sums of money to promising candidates. In return for the financial windfall, candidates will promise businesses protection once elected. Ending cash politics practices would help root out political corruption.
How will the authorities tackle it?
Eradicating cash politics will require deep cooperation from several agencies. Bawasalu commissioner Mochammad Afifuddin is in charge of cleaning up Indonesia’s politics.
He has already required each candidate to submit a wealth report ahead of the elections. By monitoring the candidates’ wealth, suspicious incoming or outgoing payments will be detected.
The National Police will work with the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) to detect suspicious bank accounts. The government has also increased its financial assistance to political parties. This year it will give RP1,000 (US$0.07) per vote. It gave RP108 (US$0.01) per vote. Giving the parties more assistance will deter them asking for fees from candidates.
Will it be successful?
Dealing with transactions between the party and the candidate is just the tip of the iceberg. To completely tackle cash politics, attitudes have to change among the public too. Political education among the people will reduce the effectiveness of vote buying.
There also have to be strict punishments on the parties who ask for cash from candidates. Likewise, candidates must be sanctioned if they engage in vote-buying strategies. Will the 2018 regional elections be free from cash politics? Probably not. But Indonesian politics may be turning a corner. Mochammad Afifuddin has a mission. If he completes it, Indonesia may kick cash out of its mechanics.