Yesterday’s regional elections in Indonesia brought with it a mixed bag of results for political parties, with many analysts saying the overall results pointing towards a tougher reelection campaign for President Joko Widodo in 2019. But for one mayoral candidate in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar — the only one — the early results are pointing towards a historic and humiliating victory for his only opponent on the ballot: an empty box.
Candidate Munafri Arifuddin and his running mate Andi Rahmatika (often referred to collectively in the media by their nicknames, Appi-Cicu) were running unopposed in the mayoral race and amazingly had the backing of no less that 10 political parties (including parties that are opposed on the national stage, such as PDI-P and Gerindra). Yet the quick count data strongly suggests that they still lost after the majority of the city’s voters chose the kotak kosong (empty box) on the ballot instead.
“It is true (the blank box appears to have won) in Makassar. I think it is almost certain that the empty column won, but for the exact figure we should still wait for the KPU (National Election Commission). The empty box got above 50 percent based on the quick count,” South Sulawesi Governor Soemarsono said yesterday evening as quoted by Merdeka.
Munafri is so far denying the loss and even declared victory over the empty box to his supporters yesterday evening.
“We will show that Makassar has a new mayor. Based on the real internal count, Appi-Cicu won as much as 53.21 percent, while the empty box earned 47.79 percent of the vote,” said Munafri to the cheers of his supporters, as quoted by Kompas.
He went on to say that people should wait until the final results from the KPU are in but claimed that the only way he could have lost was because of cheating.
However, the numbers cited by Munafri were basically a flip of the results by not just exit polling done by several survey organizations but also the government’s real count conducted by the Makassar administration which put Appi-Cicu at 46 % to the blank box’s 53%.
If those numbers hold up as the official result as they are expected to, what can account for the unopposed candidate’s loss?
Well, there was allegedly a hoax news story published on Kompasiana (the “Citizen Journalism” section of national news outlet Kompas containing user generated content) on Sunday saying that Munafri had been named a suspect by the country’s Corruption Eradication Committee (KPK) in a major case of corruption. The KPK has denied the report and the story seems to have vanished from the Kompasiana website.
We can’t say whether that hoax proved decisive in Munafri’s likely defeat or if there was another reason so many Makassar voters chose the empty box over him.
However, as to the matter of what happens when an unopposed candidate loses to a blank box, we can tell you that the position is not simply left empty.
According to KPU commissioner Pramono Ubaid Tanthowi, if an unopposed pair of candidates loses in an election (by getting less than 50% of the vote), then the election will be repeated during the next applicable election period (in 2020 in the case of the next regional elections) with the losing pair allowed to compete once more. In the meantime, the local head of the region will appoint somebody to temporarily fill the position.