Indonesia president urged to delay regional polls over contagion threat

FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote during regional elections in Tangerang

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian religious groups and experts, including a former vice president, are urging authorities to delay regional elections set for December, as coronavirus infections surge in the world’s fourth most populous country.

The Dec. 9 elections for hundreds of key local leadership posts are a huge logistical undertaking in an archipelago of more than 260 million people and have already been delayed once due to rising virus fears.

Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who now heads Indonesia’s Red Cross, in a newspaper commentary on Monday said a December poll could be dangerous.

“Forcing something that clearly, rationally endangers the people isn’t only reckless, but fatal. Every political process, the noblest goal is for the public’s benefits. Not harm,” he said.

Indonesia has confirmed nearly 245,000 coronavirus infections and 9,553 fatalities, Asia’s highest death toll outside of India. Its testing rates are among the world’s lowest and epidemiologists are concerned that elections, for which there are 107 million eligible voters, will fuel the contagion.

Those infected include government and election commission officials and three cabinet ministers.

Indonesia’s biggest religious groups, the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, also urged authorities to postpone the vote due to rising cases.

A source familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to media, told Reuters that senior commission officials were against a December ballot.

Asked to confirm that, a KPU spokesman said two other options to delay the elections to next year were suggested, but the government opted for December.

Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rahman said the ballot must go ahead as planned, but with strict health protocols.

“President Joko Widodo reiterated that the elections cannot wait until the pandemic is over, because no countries know when COVID-19 is over,” he said in a statement.

KPU protocols include limiting audience sizes at campaign events and requiring negative tests when candidates register.

(Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Martin Petty)

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