Envelopes full of cash, rice, sarongs, even prayer outfits – all have been used to sway voters in Indonesian elections.
Electoral processes in neighbouring Pacific Island countries are also dubious, new research from The Australian National University shows.
The report, Comparing Across Regions: Parties and Political Systems in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands, was launched by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific’s Centre for Democratic Institutions this month.
“We are always used to thinking of this border that separates the Pacific from Southeast Asia,” says co-author Professor Edward Aspinall.
“The two regions are rarely compared, but share similarities.”
In Indonesia, virtually every act of parliamentary law-making can be commoditised, Aspinall and fellow author Professor Jon Fraenkel note.
“In the national parliament, every government department or agency that seeks to have a law passed or amended will need to pay huge success fees to the members of the relevant parliamentary commission,” write Frankel and Aspinall.
In Papua New Guinea too, under the 2002-10 government of Michael Somare, large sums of money were necessary to avoid no confidence challenges.
Money was also paid to secure the passage of legislation on the floor of the house.
Anecdotal evidence suggests as much as 30 per cent of the voting public in Indonesia is offered inducements including money, rice, sarongs and prayer outfits, to vote a certain way.
The practice was also widespread in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea.
Of those who took bribes, a lot admitted to voting for someone other than who they had agreed to.
“I think it is widely expected among a lot of Indonesian voters that there will be at least some sort of gift giving around elections,” says Aspinall.
“It doesn’t mean everyone approves of it. In fact, most people probably don’t approve of it.
“But it looks like in a lot of the elections, enough people will be influenced so that that can constitute a winning margin.”
Candidates obtained the most success through targeting entire communities, via religious leaders, village heads, influential local business people and others.
There are efforts to crack down on the practice. Since it began in 2003, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has convicted several members of Parliament.
Aspinall and Fraenkel’s full report can be found online at the Centre for Democratic Institutions website.