I was talking recently to a guy who had never voted his entire life. He’s in his early 40s, around my age, which means he has skipped the last five elections.
“Not even for the free Starbucks coffee?” I asked him.
“Nope,” he said proudly, adding he also planned to sleep in during next week’s legislative election on Apr. 9 too.
Well, OK, I did not vote in the first two elections that I was eligible for, largely because I was living overseas in a small town that was too far from the nearest Indonesian consulate (and couldn’t care less in those years to seek information on long-distance voting). And, granted, being Golput (the Indonesian shorthand for conscious non-voters) was a strong political statement in the three decades of the Suharto regime, when the five-yearly General Election was a perfunctory affair to legitimize his presidency.
But this is a democratized Indonesia, and to squander your vote – at least in those early and heady transitional years in 1999, the country’s first free legislative election, and in the first direct presidential election in 2004 – is, to me personally, tantamount to being lazy, misguided, and unpatriotic at worst.
When these Golput people later complain about the government’s ineffectiveness or corruption in parliament, I want to say: “Well, you did not vote, you have no right to protest. You have no stake in this.”
According to Kompas daily, 29.1 percent of the voting-age population or 49.7 million people did not vote in the 2009 Legislative Election. This makes them the “winner” of that election, surpassing the Democratic Party that had the highest votes at 21.7 million. In over 10 years, the number of voters has continued to slide, from 92.7 percent in 1999, to 84 percent in 2004, to 70 percent in 2009.
Ironically, a lot of these non-voters are, like my non-voting friend above, educated and informed group of people. A few possible reasons may explain their choice: disappointment over parliament’s performance, rampant corruption cases involving legislators, the sentiment that they have no stake in the legislature, and the fact that they have no idea who to vote for.
But what happens when you don’t vote? A large number of uninformed voters will elect either candidates who buy votes from the underprivileged, or celebrities who sell their looks and popularity – basically people who don’t deserve a seat in parliament. Or they may vote based on their prejudice – racial and religious biases – putting in power people who may threaten the rich diversity that is the fabric of this nation.
Now you’re reading this – ahem – esteemed web-magazine, so I’m pretty sure you’re educated and informed, and you long for competent and trustworthy people in the legislature. But if you’re still not moved, here are some reasons why you should vote:
- If you think parliament has nothing to do with ordinary people like you and me so there’s no need to vote next week, think again. The taxes you pay go to their bank accounts as their salaries, to provide and maintain their houses and staff, to pay for their travels, to ensure they attend parliamentary meetings, and so on, and so on. A legislator can take home over Rp 50 million in monthly income. You are their paymaster, so you ought to make sure you put people who will work hard once they occupy those cushy seats.
- You’re wary that once elected they will be as corrupt as their predecessors. A survey conducted by a coalition of non-governmental organizations shows that only 0.5 percent of the legislative candidates have clean records and competencies. All the more reasons to choose the right people.
And if that’s not enough, here’s another outrageous thing you should know: while you and I were busy laughing at political memes, Parliament had been in cahoots with the current government to introduce changes to Indonesia’s penal code that might undermine the power of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK). If passed, this legal initiative may make it harder for KPK to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Choose a candidate who is committed to the fight against corruption, not putting a brake on it.
- Parliament does other things besides making laws. It decides on state budget along with the government, monitors the executive branch, and helps vet people who will occupy strategic leadership positions such as the Military Commander, the National Police Chief and the Supreme Court judges. These are important decisions that should not be made by incompetent and greedy people.
- But you can’t stand political parties? Who can? They’re fat, they need a lot of money to run (which put pressure on their cadres in high position to obtain money by whatever means), and they pretty much don’t care about their constituents until election time. The good news is many legislative candidates are not party cadres, but the law dictates that they have to run for office on a party ticket. My research into the work of some parliamentary candidates has convinced me that there are some good people who are using parties as their political vehicles to get in parliament. And that’s the way it should be, not the other way around.
- Still, you just don’t care much about the legislative election, and only want to vote in the presidential election. Not so fast. The Indonesian law requires that a political party must win 25 percent of the votes or 20 seats in parliament in order to be able to nominate a presidential candidate, or they will have to form a coalition with other parties (a process that will lead to a thick climate of horse trading). If you really want your candidate to run in the presidential election, then you have no choice but to vote for his/her party.
Or, conversely, you can do what my friend is planning to do, which is to vote for a legislative candidate who comes from a party that opposes her presidential candidate of choice. (“Because I think my presidential candidate’s party will already garner a lot of votes, and I want to make sure it will have a strong opposition in parliament,” she said).
- But there are too many candidates, and you really don’t know who to vote for. Well, if you have time to read this article, then you can spare a few more minutes to use the vast resource that is the Internet to find your legislators of choice. First, check the General Elections Committee (KPU) website, which provides the information of candidates in your electorate, and then go to any one of these sources Bersih2014, jariungu, checkyourcandidates and wikikandidat to find out more, or read some trusted publications like Tempo magazine, which recently profiled some candidates they deem capable and with integrity.
One analyst writes in his blog post that in a democracy made largely of uninformed voters, even 1 percent of wise voters can make a difference.
For democracy to do its magic, it needs all our participation.
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