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Indonesia to hold polls despite calls for Covid-19 delay

Democracy takes precedence over pandemic, government says

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Indonesia to hold polls despite calls for Covid-19 delay

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Jakarta in this April 2019 file photo (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News)

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The Indonesian government is to press ahead with regional elections in December despite calls by religious leaders for a delay due to the coronavirus.

The elections are due to take place on Dec. 9 in nine provinces, 224 districts and 37 municipalities. They were originally slated for Sept. 23 but were postponed because of the pandemic.

“Regional elections will be held on schedule ... to protect the people’s constitutional rights,” presidential spokesperson M. Fadjroel Rachman said in a statement on Sept. 21.

“Regional elections must be carried out but follow tight health protocols rigidly enforced so that there will be no new [Covid-19] clusters.” 

President Joko Widodo feels that regional elections cannot wait for the pandemic to end “as no one knows when that will happen.”

“Holding regional elections is possible. Other countries such as Singapore, Germany, France and South Korea have held elections amid the pandemic,” Rachman said.

Earlier, the country’s two largest Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, called on the government to delay the polls, citing public safety.

In a  Sept. 20 statement, Nahdlatul Ulama said the spread of Covid-19 had reached a critical level necessitating the government to prioritize efforts to end the pandemic.

“We call on the General Elections Commission, the government and the House of Representatives to delay the regional elections until the emergency is passed,” it said, adding that holding them, even with tight health protocols, “cannot prevent large crowds from gathering.”

Similarly, Muhammadiyah general secretary Abdul Mu’ti urged the government to rethink its decision to hold the polls.

“The General Elections Commission, for the sake of the national safety, should rethink and delay the elections until the situation is under control,” he told journalists.

Meanwhile, Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for the Laity, told UCA News that polls should only be held in low-risk areas.

“The General Elections Commission and related parties must ensure that those involved in the elections obey tight health protocols. Punishments must be made clear as many still ignore them,” he said.

As of Sept. 21, Indonesia had recorded 248,852 Covid-19 cases and 9,677 deaths.

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