12/08/2020, 09.58
INDONESIA
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Jakarta will not yield: millions of citizens to vote despite Covid

by Ati Nurbaiti

Part of the population, including doctors and nurses in favour of referral. Three candidates and eight regional leaders have already died from the pandemic. The preventive measures adopted in the polling stations criticised. Judges must rule on an appeal lodged by a group of citizens. Situation aggravated by floods and volcanic eruptions.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Tomorrow more than 106 million Indonesians will vote for elect nine governors, 224 municipal regents and 37 mayors. The vote will take place despite concern over the poor security measures taken against the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has ignored opinion polls and various appeals, including from associations of doctors and nurses, in favour of a postponement.

There are about 587,000 cases of contagion in the country; among them at least 70 are candidates in the elections, 48 ​​regional leaders in office and their deputies. The death toll stands at 18,000 including eight regional leaders, two candidates for the position of regent and one for that of mayor. According to their professional associations, nearly 300 doctors and nurses have died since the outbreak of the pandemic.

As of Nov. 30, “Only one third [of health safety equipment] had been distributed” to sub-district election offices, said a national Ombudsman member, Adrianus Meliala, in an online discussion on December 4. Readiness across almost 300,000 polling stations nationwide is “very low”, he added. Press reports revealed that thousands of them still lack protective suits for election officials, and infrared thermometers and disposable gloves for voters.

A lawsuit filed by a group of citizens to delay the vote is still pending. However, the State Administrative Court has set the next hearing on 10 December, one day after the elections. The judges suspended the trial pending an intervention by the House of Representatives, which with the government decided to proceed with the vote.

“We still hope the judges can show independence of the executive and legislative branches, and rule to stop the election proceedings,” Nurkholis Hidayat of the Lokataru Law and Human Rights Office told a virtual press conference.

The plaintiffs demand that the elections be postponed until conditions are in place to better control the pandemic - according to World Health Organization standards - or a vaccine is readily available.

The General Electoral Commission (KPU) reports that in the presidential and legislative elections of April 2019, held for the first time simultaneously, 894 electoral officials had died; more than 5 thousand had fallen ill, in most cases due to the enormous amount of work.

For tomorrow’s vote, the KPU has proposed the adoption of a digital system for counting votes, considered safer than the manual method, but Parliament has rejected it.

To avoid exposure to the virus, polling station officers must not be over 50 years old; but it is not yet clear whether all would have adequate substitutes in case the appointed officers test positive for the virus or resist the cumpulsory testing, as several have. Others have reportedly resigned out of fear of Covid-19 exposure. Voters must follow health protocols and will be summoned at predetermined times to avoid crowds.

Titi Anggraini, director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), points out that unlike Director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) Titi Anggraini said on December 4 that unlike other countries holding elections during the pandemic, Indonesia’s elections rules had not changed, only allowing in-person voting, with no option for electronic voting, mailing ballots, nor early voting which could be safer for patients.

Noted epidemiologist Pandu Riono said the national government should ban election officials to enter special Covid-19 hospital wards to facilitate patients to vote.

“The right to life and health is more important than the right to vote,” he said. Election organizers have stressed they will “coordinate” with local Covid-19 task forces on whether they can facilitate voters who are coronavirus patients.

While election logistics are chronically problematic especially in remote areas, this year delivery is further hampered by floods and volcano eruptions. Thousands are sheltering from floods and five highly active volcanoes including Mount Merapi and Semeru, respectively in Central and East Java — among the nation’s“red zones” where hospitals for Covid-19 patients are becoming full.

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