Jan 30, 2023 Last Updated 12:03 AM, Jan 26, 2023

Jepara's election

Published: Jul 26, 2007

Jim Schiller

The 1999 election had embarrassed Jepara’s officials and civic leaders. Four people were killed and many injured in pre-election violence and it was widely believed that the PPP Ômilitia’ had intimidated voters in many villages. National media talked about places with outbreaks of mass violence as being ‘Jepara-ised’ (‘dijeparakan’). In 2004, both the local government and the PPP leadership were determined to prevent violence from again dominating the election.

Implementing the elections in Jepara was a considerable task. More than 700,000 voters and 24 political parties were registered, and 333 candidates were certified as eligible to stand. 2656 voting stations were established, some of them on isolated islands and unpaved mountain roads. Local committees had to be established, trained, paid, and supplied with the correct type and number of ballot papers. Campaign, voting, and vote counting rules had to be publicised, monitored, and enforced.

The election was peaceful, but the campaign was about very little, and nothing local. Nothing was said about the looting of the teak forests in Jepara and the lack of timber for the furniture industry which employs 85,000 workers. Nothing was said about the rapidly degrading marine and coastal environment that was expected to be the source of economic growth. Nothing was said about junkets abroad by assembly members or increasing corruption or poverty.

Bread and circuses

Political party public campaigns in Jepara did not seem very effective. The parties tried to hold large rallies and the big parties brought in entertainment (PDI-P had the best singers), paid people to attend the rallies and even had door prizes including a motorbike. At one PDI-P rally, every time they started campaign speeches or prayers the crowd grew restless and loud so the organisers started up the dangdut (pop music).

Rally speeches were not about party policies or local issues. PDI-P said that Suharto had left a huge debt and Megawati was taxing the rich to pay that debt. PPP recalled its glory days fighting against the New Order and asked voters to remember the repression. Golkar talked about the breakdown of law and order and said it would end lawlessness and restore development. PKB said it was the party of NU and Gus Dur. Only PKS discussed what it would do to
end corruption and implement local evelopment.

It is hard to believe that these utterances to the faithful (and the paid attendees) had as much impact on voter choice as money politics or the media.

Money politics

A position on the local assembly is a lucrative prize. Salaries and allowances for representatives in Jepara add up to about Rp 7 million (A$ 1200) per month. This is roughly 20 times the local per capita income. Other perks include domestic and sometimes international travel, housing, motor ehicles, and payments for passing legislation and accountability reports.

The financial attractions of election mean that it’s not surprising that there are hurdles to overcome on the way to election. Firstly, you have to pass the scrutiny of the election commission. The district Election Commission (KPU) and Election Oversight Committee (PANWASLU) were chosen in a transparent process which involved community and NGO leaders. KPU and PANWASLU enforced the rules about when parties could campaign firmly and impartially. For example, PAN was fined for starting campaigning before the official campaign period began. Senior PPP (and other) assembly candidates were disqualified for submitting false degrees with their applications, and the popular, former President Abdurrahman Wahid was prevented from delivering a speech to a campaign rally because he arrived after the 4.30pm deadline.

Candidates also have to be nominated for a winnable position to have a chance of getting into the assembly. Each of the major political parties had their own system for selecting and ranking candidates. Some had scientific looking ranking systems that included psychological assessments, IQ tests, and scoring systems that assigned points for various categories such as contribution to party organisation, and public appearance.

But in practice, the procedure was far from transparent. Many candidates had relatives, bosses or close friends who were party officials. Money mattered too. Parties collected campaign contributions from candidates as well as promises of a portion (usually 20-25 per cent) of their assembly salaries. PKB required ‘donations’ of Rp 40 million from its first and second ranked candidates. Other parties charged top ranked candidates between five and 40 million rupiah for a position likely to win.

Candidates’ payments to parties did not stop with selection. They also were expected to support campaign rallies by paying for transport for crowds, snacks, door prizes, and entertainment. All the winning candidates interviewed — and some of the losers — admitted spending between Rp 70 million and Rp 200 million on the campaign.

One party leader said his party had a superior strategy for trawling for voters. ‘I used my credit network,’ he said. He offered interest-free loans at religious lectures (pengajian), arranged for credit from his cooperative or larger loans from banks for patrons who could deliver at least 20 solid supporters in a village.

The parties were also big spenders. According to several sources PPP spent 1.2 billion rupiah on the campaign and PDI-P 600 million rupiah. The other two large parties (Golkar and PKB) probably spent similar amounts. It seems likely that the total party and candidate expenditures exceeded 10 billion rupiah (A$ 2,000,000).

Undoubtedly, some votes were influenced by money or promises of work. However, many candidates believed that voters given gifts were likely to break their promises of party support. Some youth had collected as many as 11 party T-shirts and had still not decided who they would vote for. Local religious teaches urged their followers to take the money and vote for another party.

Not everyone played the money game in Jepara. The PKS candidates made a public pledge to give their local assembly salary to the party for development programs and accept a modest salary from the party. Yet while PKS is a genuine social movement against corruption, this may come at a cost for women. I recently conducted an interview with the idealistic PKS party leader. While we were discussing what his party had already done and would continue to do for social justice, an arm poked through the kitchen curtain and a drink tray was pushed along the floor. His wife was not allowed to appear in front of males.

Too quiet an election?

During the election, there were some minor complaints about people being unable to vote because some ballot papers were missing. There were also complaints about slow counting or miscounting of votes, and ‘dawn raids’ for vote-buying. But there were no charges of systematic violation of rules or intimidation of voters in Jepara.

Some were concerned that the election period was too quiet. ‘Maybe the District Head and I put the brake on too hard,’ said the Deputy District Head. He was worried that efforts to keep the campaign peaceful had worked too well.

Jim Schiller (jim.schiller@flinders.edu.au) teaches Asian Studies at Flinders University, and is the author of Developing Jepara: State and Society in New Order Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 80: Oct - Dec 2004

Latest Articles

Review essay: Constructing Indonesian girlhood on film

Jan 24, 2023 - ANNISA R. BETA

Two decades after the cultural shift opened up by Reformasi, hope looks very different in Indonesian cinema

Review: The afterlives of a shipwreck


Acehnese fishermen and Rohingya rescue at sea

Nov 16, 2022 - BILAL DEWANSYAH

The criminalisation of people smuggling has created complex moral and legal difficulties for those who assist refugees in peril

Review: Bali, 50 years of changes

Sep 25, 2022 - MARY ZURBUCHEN

Chasing a cure for beriberi

Sep 15, 2022 - NIA DELIANA

A long search for a cure for beriberi in Southeast Asia in the late nineteenth century was led by trial and a lot of error

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.


Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar