Democracy is fine, but where are the ballot boxes?

Companies given tenders to produce the boxes fall short of the target number as date for parliamentary elections looms.

A storm is brewing with polls looming.

And it has nothing to do with backroom dealings, smear campaigns and the internecine battles between parties at the subterranean levels of politics.

Indonesia’s General Elections Commission (KPU) is in deep mire over the most unlikely of problems: ballot boxes or the lackof them.

It may appear mundane but it will have a bearing on whether parliamentary polls will go ahead as scheduled on April 5. The problem stems from controversial tenders KPU awarded to several private companies to produce the boxes.

Survindo Indah Prestasi won the US$37 million (S$63 million) tender last year to produce 2.19 million boxes. In mid-December, however, KPU found that its numbers were far below its promised target. Instead of 600,000 boxes, it had produced only 30,000.

This forced the elections team to turn to another firm, Tjakrindo Mas, which ranked second in the tender rating system. Technically, they were not qualified to carry out the project. They also bungled.

As of last month, the company could only churn out 316,000 of a targeted 925,000 boxes. But PT Tjakrindo’s defence was that the KPU had yet to pay a promised first instalment of US$4.8 million.

So, what did KPU do next? It set its sights on another company, Almas, to do the job.

The clock is ticking. The deadline for the companies is March 5 – a month before parliamentary elections – in which all ballot boxes are to have reached the regencies.

But confusion seems to be the order of the day – and confidence in the KPU to see through two or even three elections this year, is waning.

The Anti-corruption Commission has jumped into the fray, screaming corruption.

Some non-governmental organisations have questioned how Survindo could have won the tender without having the financial muscle to carry out the project. As a result, the State Audit Agency is now looking into whether there were irregularities in the tender process.

Legislators have jumped onto the bandwagon, after wavering initially over how to respond. The eventual response is predictable.

After all, it is fashionable these days in Indonesia to cry foul over corruption. It is all about scoring political points.

A parliamentary commission investigating the matter has called for legal action against Survindo.

Mr Abdurrahman Gafar, who is heading the panel, said: ‘KPU must be strict and set a precedent for all firms that fail to provide election materials, particularly the ballot boxes.’

And what is the election commission’s response in the face of all this flak?

Surprisingly, it is upbeat. KPU chairman Nazaruddin Syamsudin said over the weekend that the parliamentary polls would run smoothly as scheduled.

He described the ballot box saga as ‘a small problem’. Is it a storm in a teacup?

It might be just a glitch. But at a larger level, it points to how messy and complicated it will be to organise the elections.

Observers might now be drawing permutations about the winners and losers and likely coalitions without realising that the administration and logistics of the polls have yet to be put in place two months from D-day.

Indeed, some of the major parties, including the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle, have not even finalised their legislative candidates in several provinces.

At the heart of the problem is the KPU.

With a record 140 million people eligible to vote, the KPU has more voters, more work and a lot more money in the kitty. Itpredicts that it will spend 3.45 trillion rupiah (S$690 million).

In some provinces, some members are fighting for more funds.

In East Kalimantan, five newly elected members of the provincial KPU reportedly sought an operational budget of 13.8 billion rupiah.

The funds were aimed at covering the purchase of five Nissan Terrano jeeps, new suits, monthly stipends of 15 million rupiah for the chairman and 12.5 million rupiah for each of the other four commission members, medical and housing allowances, and telephone bills.

When queried about the budget, East Kalimantan’s KPU chairman Noorsyamsu Agang replied: ‘Democracy is expensive.’

It is. But where are the ballot boxes?

BOXES: Three suppliers

Survindo Indah Prestasi won the US$37 million (S$63 million) tender last year to produce 2.19 million boxes. By mid-December, it had produced only 30,000 of a promised 600,000 boxes.

KPU then turned to another firm, Tjakindro Mas. But as of last month, it produced only 316,000 of 925,000 boxes.

The KPU has turned to yet another company, Almas, to do the job with a March 5 deadline looming.

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