Electoral Violence

In Indonesia, since the democratic transition began in 1998, electoral violence has been remarkably low, but in some areas of the country, especially after direct local elections were introduced in 2005, refusal of losers to accept the results has produced outbreaks of violence. The disputes have sometimes been protracted, as in North Maluku where the governor’s election remained unresolved for almost two years (2007-2009). Poor performance or evidence of bias by local election commissions has also contributed to tensions. The Constitutional Court has been the formal arbiter of local election disputes since 2008 and has generally played a constructive role, but outbreaks of violence seem to be increasing.

Two noteworthy electoral conflicts in recent years have been over the 2012 election for governor in Aceh and over the election for bupati (head of the sub-provincial unit, kabupaten) in Puncak, Papua in 2011. In the first, thugs linked to a local political party trying to unseat the incumbent governor killed several Javanese workers in a successful attempt to delay the elections on security grounds until the governor’s term had expired and he could no longer use the resources of his office for campaigning.

In the second, two candidates from the same clan, determined to be the endorsed candidate of the Gerindra Party, mobilised extended family members to fight it out in July 2011. Initially 18 were killed, but the numbers rose as the feud dragged on; the total death toll was closer to 30.

The problem has thus far been more evident in local elections than in national ones, but this may be in part because the last two presidential elections, in 2004 and 2009, were landslides. A very close contest between evenly matched candidates at the national level could also produce localised outbreaks of violence if the losing side believed that fraud contributed to the loss.

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