06 March 2009

Compulsory and Optional Voting -- Indonesia

This has appeared previously on en.hukumonline.com - here.

Optional and compulsory voting is always an issue that draws a great deal of commentary. However, when in a country such as Indonesia where voting in a general election is optional, the issuance of a fatwa by the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulema Indonesia / MUI) is certain to ratchet up the rate in which commentators express their views, particularly when the fatwa states that not to vote is haram or prohibited where there are qualified Muslim candidates standing.

Indonesia has traditionally had a sizable number of individuals who choose not to exercise their democratic rights and vote. This group is referred to as the Golongan Putih or Golput group. They are in essence a group that abstains from voting. Whether this is an expression of dissatisfaction with the quality of the candidates being offered or a lack of interest is irrelevant. However, some have suggested that it is likely that somewhere around 40%, if not more, of registered voters will not exercise their right to vote in the 2009 elections.

The Muslim community seems split on whether Islam considers the expression of democratic freedom through a decision not to vote is haram. Abdurraham Wahid, who is affectionately known as Gus Dur and who is a former President of Indonesia and an influential figure in Nahdlatul Ulama (Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization), has been active in campaigning for people to take golput seriously.

On the other hand, the Prosperous Justice Party’s (PKS), Hidayat Nur Wahid, explicitly stated that golput is prohibited under Islam and has pro-actively campaigned for the MUI to issue the fatwa. Perhaps, somewhat cynically, Hidayat believes that the PKS is likely to benefit from those disaffected voters who feel compelled to comply with the fatwa.

The House of Representatives (DPR) have also weighed in on the matter with the Head of the DPR, Agung Laksono, arguing that the right to vote implicitly contains a right not to vote and as such golput cannot be haram. According to Laksono, political parties must take heed of the increasing numbers of golput-ers as a sign that political parties have failed in translating their respective visions into policies and action on the ground that positively affects the lives of their constituents. To his mind, the fatwa is a mistake.

The reaction to the fatwa has been widespread and varied. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia / Komnas HAM) issued a press release on 2 February 2009 that states simply the fatwa is a violation of people’s human rights to exercise the right not to vote. Ifdhal Kasim, the Head of Komnas HAM, stated that the right to vote or not to vote was a basic human right that cannot and must not be interfered with.

He cites that this is a Constitutional guaranteed right that has been further strengthened with provisions in Law No. 39 of 199 and Law No. 2 of 2005. Ifdhal points out that the government has already ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which means that “societies or government could not limit this right through prohibition, criminalization, or imposing moral sanctions on people who did not use their right to vote”.

The General Election Commission (Komisi Pemilihan Umum / KPU) who is tasked in carrying out the election, according to Ifdhal, is restricted by its mandate in that it does not allow them to issue any regulations which would impinge on the absolute rights of individuals to choose whether they vote or do not vote in a general election. However, the Head of the KPU, Abdul Hafiz Anshary, has been vocal in his support of the fatwa issued by the MUI. He has openly and publicly wondered why the MUI has only acted now on this issue.

According to Hafiz it is the MUI’s responsibility to supervise Muslims in order to see that Muslims exercise their rights in terms of voting for qualified Muslim candidates. In fact, Hafiz was unequivocal in stating that “not only cigarette are haram, but golput also haram.” This is in reference to another MUI fatwa that prohibits cigarette smoking in certain circumstances.

It is worth noting that MUI fatwas are not binding in a legal sense and it remains to be seen whether the fatwa has any moral force in terms of convincing potential golput-ers to vote.

(RAB / SH)


boneman said...

I am ignorant of the meanings of some of the terms. If in my life I could cram another life, I would dillegently investigate the differences i perceive, however, here?
It almost sounds as if there has always been a pure democratic following of the people.
+ - 0
Those who chose not to vote being the neutral, or 0.
Then some guy comes along and demands they vote?
well...doesn't that call for a vote against the guy that is demanding? Isn't that actually a risk he's taking?

And, even more important, shouldn't that be one of the points of running his opposition strives for?

I mean, to one such as me, it sound that they are given the choice to vote against tryanny.
That's a good thing.


Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for commenting. Interesting insights as always.

It seems a little unfair with so many things to be seen and done that we only have one lifetime to do it. I guess this is why people want to believe in reincarnation :D