Reliable data in Indonesian national elections stops at campaign finance

Photo of newly elected Indonesian president, Joko Widodo.
Photo of newly election Indonesian president, Joko Widodo. Image Credit: Flickr Commons

For the second time this year, Indonesian citizens went to the polls for a national election; this time, to choose the country’s next president. In some respects, the Indonesian government is incredibly transparent about elections. The General Election Commission releases extensive amounts of data on voting demographics and counting results that can help hush accusations of corruption. Unfortunately, a level of transparency that empowers accountability does not extend to political finance regulation. Data revealing how and by whom citizens’ votes might be influenced is neither timely nor reliable.

In a mere 15 years, Indonesia has gone from being a dictatorship to the world’s third-largest democracy. Vote counts indicate that the populist governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, will be taking office this fall — despite recent allegations of mass cheating by close contender, Prabowo Subianto. The ex-general, considered a symbol of the former regime, has now officially withdrawn. As a reform-minded official steps into the presidency, some believe this election marks an important step forward for this burgeoning democracy.

Yet there is more that can be done. For example, although campaign finance laws in Indonesia limit the amount of money that individuals and corporate entities can contribute to political parties — 1 billion rupiah ($85,910 U.S. dollars) annually for individuals and 7.5 billion rupiah ($646,830 U.S. dollars) annually for corporations — there are, unfortunately, many loopholes in the regulation. According to Global Integrity’s most recent scorecard, individuals and corporations can easily supersede limits by funneling donations through friends or relatives. Evidence from previous elections has shown that even when there are clear violations, penalties are not imposed.

While Indonesian regulations do require political parties and candidates to report on funding sources (including donor information) and expenses in relation to a campaign, this attempt at transparency comes too late for the information to be relevant for voters when they go to the polls. Parties and national candidates report the identity of donors only after the campaign period ends and any data on campaign funding or expenses is still not released to the public until ten days after the General Election Commission has finished auditing the campaign. Further, the quality of the data to the public released online is of questionable accuracy, according to Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) in their investigation of questionable funding sources for political parties in 2011.

The lack of accessible data on campaign finance in Indonesia provides a sharp contrast to the availability of other types of election data released by the government and liberated by local CSOs. The General Election Commission’s data site includes extensive data on voting results that is available both in a searchable database and via an API. Perludem, an Indonesian good governance group working to maintain the integrity of elections, released their first open source Election API in time for the 2014 parliamentary election in April. It contains an impressive amount of information about all 7,500+ candidates from the recent election, including backgrounds, past employment and education. Alongside the API, the front end site that Perludem has created lets you browse the data on national candidates as well, so the API can not only be used to power applications by developers, but even non-developers can perform analyses on the 2014 candidates and candidates in years to come. Google even featured data from Perludem, in addition to presidential candidate information in the 2014 Google Election tool.

Perludem only recently launched this API, but they are continually adding data and functionality. The usability of the election data within this application exemplifies the benefit that open government data can have and provides an example for what could be accomplished if this amount of data was available on campaign finance.

Indonesia has taken some steps to make elections and the national government in general more transparent. The government has taken an active role in the Open Government Partnership, including hosting the Asia-Pacific Regional Open Government Partnership (OGP) conference in Nasu Dua, Bali earlier this year. Unfortunately, increasing the openness of campaign finance data isn’t currently on Indonesia’s priority list. Ethics groups, including Perludem, are speaking out against campaign finance regulation violations in connection with the 2014 parliamentary and presidential election, but it is unclear whether or not this will lead to better oversight or stronger disclosure laws. As a country with several anti-corruption groups working to open government data and an active member of OGP, there is evidence of Indonesia’s burgeoning role within the global open government movement — but there is still much room for improvement and a greater focus on the disclosure of campaign finance data could be made going forward. Until then, citizens of Indonesia will stay in the dark about who is trying to influence their vote.