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To vote or not to vote, that is the question for many Indonesians ahead of election

To vote or not to vote, that is the question for many Indonesians ahead of election

Saya Golput, meaning I Abstain in English, is a growing movement in Indonesia ahead of its presidential election on Apr 17, 2019. It is mobilised by voters who do not want to vote and wish to see a better political system in their country. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

JAKARTA: Alghiffari Aqsa doesn’t know who will become his president - and he doesn't care. He will be sleeping at home when more than 190 million Indonesians are expected to elect their president and vice president on Wednesday.

In fact, the 33-year-old has never cast a vote in any presidential election since gaining the rights at the age of 17. He sees no point in doing so on Apr 17 either. The choices he has are just not good enough.

“The election that we see doesn’t connect with real problems in society,” said the lawyer from Jakarta who forms part of a growing movement in Indonesia called "Saya Golput" or "I Abstain" in English.

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As the name signifies, the movement was mobilised by eligible voters who do not want to vote. Many of them do not believe the current political system is working for their country. Others are simply fed up or disappointed with the candidates whom they associate with “a bad track record” in human rights violation and discrimination against belief.

For Alghiffari, those issues are among the key problems faced by his society. He has spent the past decade defending victims of human rights abuse and marginalised communities across Indonesia – the largest democracy in Southeast Asia that is poised to select its top leader in a two-horse race.

Candidate number 01 is incumbent President Joko Widodo – Jokowi. He is running for a second term with a prominent Muslim scholar named Ma’ruf Amin, who is highly respected among top Islamic organisations in the country where the majority population follow Islam.

Jokowi’s contender is presidential candidate number 02 Prabowo Subianto – a military veteran and son-in-law of former dictator President Suharto, who has the support of conservative Islamic parties. His running mate is one of Indonesia’s richest billionaires, Sandiaga Uno.

For the likes of Alghiffari, however, voters have a third choice. Abstention.

“Abstention is a right,” he told CNA. “Saya Golput is good for democracy as it criticises the existing candidates for a better democratic system.”

According to the lawyer, hundreds of activists support the movement mostly through social media. They are people with influence from various parts of Indonesia who educate their followers about their rights, key problems in the country and how the state has failed to address them.

“We don’t ask people to join us because politics is very individual. That’s why the movement uses the term 'Saya' or 'I'. It’s simply (a) response to a bad political system,” Alghiffari added.

“We put social pressure on whoever wins the Apr 17 presidential election.”

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The presidential election on Wednesday is a rematch between Jokowi and Prabowo. In 2014, the incumbent president beat his contender by a relatively small margin of 6 per cent. His victory was viewed by observers as a sign of hope for a new era where human rights will be promoted and the environment protected.

Instead, some analysts pointed out that five years under Jokowi’s leadership has led to a wave of disappointment rippling over Indonesia.

“When you have really high hope for someone and they really disappoint you, you get really angry,” said political analyst Kunto Adi Wibowo from Jakarta’s Padjadjaran University.

“There was high hope in Jokowi’s government when he was elected in 2014. But since then, human rights and environmental commitments have not advanced. So, there has been a wave of disappointment towards his government, mostly from people who care about these issues. This wave is bigger in 2019 – now.”

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According to Kunto, the resentment against politicians has fanned the Saya Golput movement, which he said could have significant impact on the voting results. Citing the 6 per cent margin that helped Jokowi beat Prabowo in 2014, the analyst explained a tiny drop in support for the incumbent president this time around could easily mean his defeat.

“The 6 per cent were youths and activists who really put human rights and environmental issues as their top priority. So, although the number of abstaining voters may not be big this year, it matters in this election,” he said, adding the Saya Golput movement is largely supported by people under the age of 40.

Based on data from Indonesia’s General Election Commission, more than 60 million voters aged 20-30 will be able to cast their votes on Apr 17. Their number makes up about 31 per cent of about 192 million eligible voters nationwide.


Although a number of people may abstain on Wednesday, the majority of eligible voters are expected to cast their ballots. Among them is 33-year-old Umaru Takaeda, who composed a campaign song for Prabowo and Sandiaga.

Calling himself a millennial – a term used to describe people were born between 1981 and 1996 – Umaru seems passionate about politics and hopeful the pair he supports will win the election.

“Both of them are really cool, especially Sandiaga. He’s so millennial. If we rap, he’d rap too. If we play in a band, he’d join us. He also danced during the campaign,” he told CNA.

“For me, my song is like a prayer. Nothing is impossible. Show the world you’re the winner because once we think we win, we’ll win.”

But for Renny Fernandez, a music video producer in Jokowi’s electoral campaign, the mumber 01 duo understand the younger generations better than their rivals, particularly when it comes to business opportunities.

“Jokowi really supports Indonesia’s youngsters to create unicorn start-ups to develop the economy. He makes it easier for them and really understands this issue,” she said.

“If you look at the Saya Golput campaign on social media, I don’t think it represents millennials. I’m sure millennials will come to the polling stations. Millennials will vote.”

For the likes of Alghiffari though, Indonesia’s political system is exclusively controlled by people he called “political elites” and needs to be changed to allow more presidential candidates in the future.

“Forming political parties in Indonesia with the current political law is very difficult. It has high costs and is only for people who have money. The system only gives us two choices. We didn’t really get to decide and we’re trying to criticise such system,” he said.

Come Wednesday, the lawyer hopes his abstention will speak louder than the ballot.

Source: CNA/na(aj)


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