Indonesian E-voting – A less-democratic approach to improve democracy

Manik Hapsara

E-voting Researcher @ UNSW ADFA


Disclaimer: This article is taken from my latest publication entitled “Beyond Organizational Motives of e-Government Adoption: The case of e-Voting initiative in Indonesian villages”, which has been modified to fit this blog. It tells a story of e-voting adoption for village-level elections in one regency in Indonesia, and the quotes presented are authentic.  However, to comply with the imposed research ethics, all links to the actual setting are coded. If you are interested in the full paper, please contact me at the above email.

Provincial, municipal, and village elections in Indonesia are regulated by the constitution that allows the use of electronic devices for voting process. However, in our case of interest, for the municipal government to proceed with adopting electronic voting (e-voting) technology, they would need further legal supports from the election commission and local parliament for the then current enactment did not regulate e-voting. The election commission seemed reluctant to facilitate the use of the technology; and the municipal government had criticized how the commission handled this issue. The idea had also received very little support from the higher jurisdiction, i.e. the provincial government.

Now, since amending the local regulation to accommodate the use of e-voting machine needed to go through a long legislative process, the municipal government had tried to avoid this approach. They believed it would have been exhaustive and could have stimulated long debates with political opponents of the ruling leader in the local parliament, something they could not afford. They were determined to adopt e-voting without further delay. A higher-level government officer stated:

… (there was disagreement) from members of parliament who are political opponent of the municipal leader, (they said) ‘There has not been relevant policies on this, not even a local regulation’… but previously the municipal leader has approach the Minister of XXX, they have a close relationship (as they come from the same political party). So, the truth is we are ready, it was the election commission who are not… that is why in the last meeting with the technology provider, the Minister himself gave a verbal instruction to them, ‘Do it! I do not know how, just coordinate! If possible for 2017 or 2019 municipal elections we opt for e-voting’… so, that was the hardest part, when there was refusal due to the absence of local regulation (on e-voting)… but if we wanted to amend the regulation, it would have taken a long time… this is a case of emergency, so it was the municipal decree that we changed.. there should not be any problem…

There is evidence of vested political interests and power plays associated with e-voting adoption in this case. I would like to highlight the following. Despite being questioned mainly over issues of the legality of the electoral processes and the results, the municipal government went on with their initial plan. They later took a shortcut by issuing a municipal decree and made a number of approaches to higher-level authorities for political supports. Although they knew public statements are not a formal legal product, they used it to strengthen their arguments on the adoption and further to effectively shape public opinion.

Here, the role of leaders is considerably important and interesting to note. The municipal government had shown strong determination towards the adoption and did not hesitate to invest in the technology. They were noticeable autocratic and took significant control over the implementation, which included determining potential villages and setting the selection criteria, i.e. villages with fewest potential voters, there had to be only one candidate for the election, and there had never been any disputes recorded during previous elections. The same officer further said:

… the initiative did not come from the villages, it was all ours… well, I am quite an authoritarian. If a village did not want to allocate their budget for internet infrastructures, for instance, they would not get their money… I am not exactly sure, but this obsession has been there since the day I was a district leader… I think all relevant units have been supportive (about e-voting), very supportive. Well, if the municipal leader has said, has instructed, that will be our mission. Everyone will be supporting; there is no way (for them) to disagree… 

The village governments under their authority, therefore, could have been considered under a significant pressure to adopt e-voting shortly, and might have been, as a consequence, given only a small window of opportunity to properly evaluate the technology. They might not have a clear idea how e-voting could contribute to improving operation and service delivery. There had not been any process of public hearing recorded prior to the implementations, for instance, that the village governments, thus, might have ignored issues of digital divide and facts about lower-level computer literacy of the voters. A less-democratic approach to improve democracy, indeed.

Author: Manik Hapsara

E-Voting Researcher University of New South Wales Canberra

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