Senior Jokowi adviser says encouraging others to abstain from voting a potentially criminal act

Illustration: PxHere
Illustration: PxHere

A significant number of Indonesians, especially young people of voting age, have expressed their dissatisfaction with both candidates vying for the presidency in next month’s election and some have announced they would golput (abstain from voting) to both voice their disappointment in the candidates and the whole system that produced them. Some have even suggested a golput movement would be good for Indonesian democracy.

But, according to one of President Joko Widodo’s senior advisers, persuading others to abstain as well could constitute a criminal act.

Wiranto. the country’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, received criticism last week for suggesting that people who spread hoaxes regarding the security of next month’s elections could be charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws. This week, he’s drawing fire for a similar warning regarding those who tell others not to vote.

“Yes, we’ve discussed it. If you invite others to abstain from voting that is called disruptive. It threatens the rights of others. The law threatens it,” Wiranto said yesterday as quoted by Detik.

According to Wiranto, those who tell others to abstain from voting could be prosecuted under Indonesia’s controversial Law on Electronic Transaction and Information (UU ITE), which ambiguously forbids numerous types of speech online including messages that could cause public disturbances or unrest.

“The Terrorism Law cannot be used [on those telling others to abstain], but other laws are still possible. There is UU ITE Law and the Criminal Code. Indonesia is a legal state, if somebody creates disorder, causes chaos, there must be sanctions,” he added.

In addition to abstaining, Wiranto said there were other potential threats to the polls, including hoaxes designed to keep people away from the ballot boxes.

“There are still (threats). That is what I continue to convey to the community, come to the polling station, it is safe, the authorities will guard them,” Wiranto said.

As with the threat of terrorism charges for hoax spreaders, other political leaders said Wiranto went too far with his warning. Andre Rosiade, a spokesperson for the campaign of Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno, echoed many in saying his side believed that abstention was a political right that should not be criminalized.

Even those on his side have been reluctant to back up Wiranto’s statement. Irma Suryani Chaniago, a spokesperson for the campaign of President Joko Widodo and Ma’ruf Amin, agreed that abstention was irresponsible and there should be sanctions for those who persuade others to not vote but said that it was up to the legal system to determine what sanctions those should be.

While UU ITE has long been criticized by rights activists, more recently, some have warned that President Jokowi’s administration has been using the controversial law not only to combat fake news but also to silence critics in ways that appear increasingly authoritarian.

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