Bogor: When Indonesian authorities arrested a politician with some 400,000 cash-filled envelopes, it was a stark reminder that a long-time election staple is alive and well in the corruption-riddled country – vote buying.
Bowo Sidik Pangarso was detained last month for alleged embezzlement from a fertiliser firm, but officials also discovered the lawmaker had boxes stuffed with envelopes of low-denomination notes totalling about 8 billion rupiah (RM2.31mil).
Graft-busters suspect the cash was earmarked for a so-called “Dawn Attack” – a widespread ploy in the South-East Asian archipelago where people receive cash early on voting day in a bid to sway their ballot choice.
Some 192 million Indonesians are set to vote next week across the world’s third-biggest democracy, electing officials from local legislators to president.
Indonesia is riddled with corruption at all levels of society and its parliament is widely viewed as one of its most graft-hit institutions – even two decades after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, among the most corrupt in history.
With a record 245,000 candidates in the running, the April 17 poll presents a huge challenge for the corruption eradication commission which is already probing dozens of vote-buying cases.
“The (Pangarso) case proved that politics and corruption are still closely linked,” said Almas Syafrina, a researcher at Indonesia Corruption Watch.
“It’s not enough just give money to 100 people. (Corrupt candidates) need to give money to as many as they can, hoping that they’ll vote for them.”
Sapta Firdaus, a 37-year-old legislator in Sumatra’s Bengkulu province, learned the reality of vote buying when he first ran for office in 2014.
“So many people asked me for money,” he said.
“They said ‘how much are you willing to pay for our support?’”
But it wasn’t just strangers he met going door to door – some of the politician’s own family demanded cash too.
“It’s become a habit in our society to ask for rewards for anything,” he said.
Some admitted to employing freelance brokers to reach “core supporters” of rival candidates whose votes were “simply up for sale” in return for higher payments, it found.
These “market sensitive” candidates determined how much to pay based on their resources, constituency size and also what their rivals offered, the paper added.
Aspiring politicians who are not well known were particularly likely to buy votes, especially if running against celebrity candidates – another election fixture.
“You can either advertise yourself massively or you buy votes,” said Syafrina.
While penalties have gotten stiffer, many Indonesians don’t see election-time handouts, including food staples such as rice, cooking oil and sugar, as a problem.
“People know that once elected, candidates won’t visit the area any more so they use this as an opportunity to get some benefits,” Syafrina said. — AFP