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Politics

Same-day regional polls a boon for development

Tri Rismaharini, the incumbent mayor of Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya, was one of some 60 million people in eight provinces who polled simultaneously in local elections for the first time on Dec.9. (REUTERS Zabur Karuru)

JAKARTA -- With over half of Indonesia's districts holding elections on Wednesday simultaneously for the first time, at least one analyst said the emerging synchronicity augurs well for development planning.

     An estimated 60 million to 70 million voters cast their ballots in eight provinces and 256 districts and municipalities. Previously, regional polls have been conducted haphazardly according to local timetables.

     The Indonesian archipelago has 34 provinces and over 500 districts and municipalities. The country's other 26 regions are due for elections in 2017, 2019 and 2023. In 2027, all regions will poll simultaneously.

     The General Elections Commission, or KPU, reported 100 million eligible voters registered for Wednesday's polls. But another agency, the Elections Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), estimates only between 60-70% showed up, reinforcing observers' concerns over a declining turnout trend in recent years.

     Polling went off smoothly with no major disruptions reported, but there were still allegations of vote buying -- a problem that has long dogged Indonesian democracy.

     Syarif Hidayat, a researcher on regional autonomy at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, says politicians elected through money politics would ensure "business as usual" in the regions they control.

     Since the collapse of President Suharto's New Order regime in 1998, mayors and district heads have exercised considerable influence over both the public and private sectors, and are often more powerful than provincial governors -- and sometimes even the central administration.

     "With money politics and political conspiracies still tainting the electoral process, we can expect corruption and nepotism to continue to obstruct Jokowi's development policies in the regions," Hidayat told the Nikkei Asian Review, referring to President Joko Widodo by his nickname.

     Hidayat believes improved electoral synchronicity can only benefit development. A particular problem in the past has been mayors elected at different times to governors, which leads to mismatched planning agendas. Concurrent polling, he said, will especially benefit medium-term development plans, which must be mapped out ahead of five-year terms in office. It should also improve dealings between central government and the provinces.

     Early counts on Wednesday confirmed a number of predicted wins. One was Tri Rismaharini, the popular incumbent mayor of Surabaya, the East Javan capital and second largest city in Indonesia. Rismaharini is backed by President Widodo's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

     Hidayat cautions, however, that such alliances do not always help central government plan development because parties that oppose each other at the national level sometimes strike local alliances.

     In the provinces of Jambi and South Kalimantan, for example, PDI-P is joining hands with the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), both members of the opposition bloc in the national parliament.Offical tallies from Wednesday's polls are due next week.

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