As the Indonesian elections approach, peace-builders throughout the country are working to keep fairness and inclusion in the public conversation. National elections are held every five years to choose legislators, the president, and the vice president, with this year’s elections taking place in April and June.

As a multicultural country, difference—based on ethnicity, religion, race, and other identity groups—is an issue that historically has had a high potential for conflict during elections.

Differences are exploited as negative campaign strategies to gain sympathy and support from voters on the basis of identity. This can lead to conflict and discrimination within communities—with impacts felt especially by marginalized communities such as tribal people, women, and other minority groups.

In February, the Timor Peace Alliance (composed of six AFSC partners) organized a talk show focused on keeping the 2014 elections free from exploitation and discrimination. Broadcast on television and radio, the show included approximately 50 candidates for national, provincial, and local positions, and around 100 representatives from community and religious organizations as well as various media representatives.

"Hopefully the 2014 general election can more be enlightening and produce good leaders and can be held without any discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or other identity groups," said Liliana Amalo, director of AFSC partner Foundation Without Borders, when opening the show.

How important is it that the 2014 election be fair? Based on the survey by the Indonesian Research Institute, approximately 79.5 percent of respondents from 33 provinces in Indonesia were disappointed with the results of the previous election. People said they were not satisfied with the behavior of elected House of Representatives members, many of whom have been implicated or even convicted of corruption and their record did not demonstrate a concern for people’s needs.

Amid such pessimism, Zarniel Woleka from Timor Peace Alliance stated during the talk show that he believed that the election would take place smoothly, although he had fears of emerging friction that might lead to discrimination. [Read more about Zarniel's interfaith peace-building work in West Timor.]

Zarniel explained that the Timor Peace Alliance has requested that the local general elections commission and election supervisory board supervise the elections and make a commitment to collaborate with the alliance.

Yemris Foentuna, a member of the election supervisory body for East Nusa Tenggara province, explained to the audience that the body had established a rule prohibiting legislative candidates from insulting other candidates’ ethnicity or religion during the campaign. Violations would be considered a crime and subject to strict sanctions if proven, he said.

Without discrimination

Gasim, a representative from general elections committee of East Nusa Tenggara province, stated that promoting discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, or other group identity was forbidden by law since the use of discrimination would hurt community harmony and likely create a negative atmosphere for electoral participants. As poll organizers, the province’s general elections committee and electoral supervisory body have been working together to disseminate the rules that political parties and candidates need to follow.

Zarniel said that the election should further strengthen the country's unity.

“Harmony does not necessarily mean that we have to be the same for everything,” said Haji Jamaludin Bethan, a Muslim representative from the Interfaith Harmony Forum. “Harmony is one of the four pillars of the nation, and indeed we must work together in order that we are increasingly united as a nation. Hopefully we can continue to remind people of the importance of holding the election without any discrimination or hate speech."

The talk show ended with a reading of a joint declaration supporting peaceful elections and the signing of this declaration by representatives from the general election committee, electoral supervisory body, Interfaith Harmony Forum, Timor Peace Alliance, legislative candidates, community-based organizations, and all participants in the talk show.

The talk show also led to the signing of an agreement between the electoral supervisory body of East Nusa Tenggara province and Timor Peace Alliance to establish a post for receiving complaints related to discrimination and hate speech. The agreement includes cooperation on monitoring for the April and June 2014 elections, and covers monitoring for the full election cycle, including campaigning, determining eligible voters, polling, and counting the votes.

News of this unique agreement involving government bodies responsible for implementing the election and community-based organizations inspired AFSC partners in Aceh to reach a similar agreement with their local electoral institutions.

AFSC partners from East Nusa Tenggara, Yogyakarta, and Aceh participated in a media roadshow involving major media outlets in Jakarta, sharing their experience in organizing to prevent discrimination and hate speech from being used in the elections.