Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Children in Political Campaigns

Aceh Feature, 29 Sepember 2009

His mouth is tightly closed when hearing the cheers. He looks at his front but sometimes turns to his left and right. Soon after, he raises his hands to the air, following others. His name is Muhammad Zahlul. He is eight years old.

“Viva SIRA!” he shouted.

That Monday afternoon, 23 March 2009, hundreds of supporters of SIRA Party gathered in a soccer field in Blang Cut village. Zahlul was one of them. He wore a clean white shirt with SIRA Party logo printed on it.

“Nyoe bajee SIRA (It is SIRA’s shirt),” he said while pulling out his shirt.
“Soe joek bajee nyan (who gave you this shirt)?” I asked.
“Mak lon (my mom),” he replied.

Yes, on that day, SIRA was holding an open campaign. SIRA stands for Suara Independen Rakyat Aceh (the Independent Voice of Aceh People).

Muhammad Nazar initiated the establishment of this party. He is now Aceh deputy governor. Earlier, SIRA was a student organization called Sentral Informasi Referendum Aceh or the Information Center for Aceh Referendum. Previously, he struggled actively for a referendum in Aceh.

Peace treaty entered into by the Indonesian Government and the Free Aceh Movement in August 2005 produces an Aceh Law No. 11 of 2006 concerning the granting of power to Aceh people to be united by establishing local parties. Therefore, by mid of December 2007, SIRA turned into a political organization, using the same acronym.

“Dek, teupeu SIRA nyan peu (do you know what SIRA is)?” I asked again.

“han (no)!!” he replied.

“Peu buet keunoe shit (then why are you here)?”

“Jak deungo ceuramah (to hear speeches),” he answered.

Juniah sits on the grass. She wears a shirt with SIRA party logo on it. Her brown hood is contrast with her light blue shirt. She is Muhammad Zahlul’s mother.

“Pakon neumee si nyak droeneuh bak kampanye SIRA (why did you take your son to SIRA campaign)?” I asked.

“Jih dilake seutot (he wanted to come here),” she replied.

“Lon lake jak keudroe (Yes I wanted to come here),” said Zahlul cheerfully.

Behind the stage, Chairani Zainal Abidin meets with reporters. She just delivered her political campaign. Flash lights were shot to her. She is the chairwoman of campaign committee for SIRA Party that afternoon.

No SIRA Party attribute on her outfits. She wears a light blue hood. It is the color of her party.

“Why are there many children participating in this campaign?” I asked.

“We did not invite any children. It is highly populated area. Some children are curious about this crowd. But we did not invite any children to participate. We know the rule. It is prohibited to involve children in politics,” she said.

Open campaigns have been organized for a week. Children are seen involved in political campaigns. Is it a violation of the election law?

Article 84, paragraph 2 of Law No. 10 of 2008 concerning General Election clearly specifies that Indonesian citizens who do not have the right to vote are not allowed to participate.

It is also specified in Article 26, paragraph 2 of the General Election Commission regulation No. 19 of 2008 concerning Campaigns.

Any campaign organizer violating this regulation shall be imposed with a minimum three months and a maximum 12 months imprisonment and a minimum Rp. 30 million and a maximum Rp. 60 million fine.

“Children involvement in political campaign is an election violation, and the Election Observer Committee should monitor it,” said Abdul Salam Poroh. He is the Chairman of the Election Independent Commission in Aceh or KIP Aceh.

The Election Observer Committee or Panwaslu is an agency established to ensure a direct, general, free, confidential, honest and fair general election. Panwaslu initiated its operations since 1982 general election.

That afternoon, I visited Panwaslu office at about five o’clock. I met with Nyak Arif Fadillah. He is the chairman of Aceh Panwaslu. He was born in South Aceh 37 years ago.

“Panwaslu has warned and explained to political parties about prohibitions during campaigns, and Panwaslu will investigate its findings,” he asserted.

He said children should not be involved in political campaigns by deliberately providing party attributes with children sizes.
In addition to the Election Law, Article 87 of Child Protection Law also prohibits children participation in political campaigns.

Violation of these laws will result in a five year imprisonment and a maximum Rp100 million fine.

In their executions, however, they are often impeded by practical issues.

“Campaigns are usually held in open fields without any special supervision. Anyone, including children passing by, will see these campaigns,” said Fauzi Muhammad Daud Ali.

He is the Chairman of Work Unit for Observation, Evaluation, Research and Reporting at the Regional Commission for Child Protection (KPAID) in Aceh. This Commission was established in Aceh on 7 February 2007.

“In this case, should political parties be blamed? Parents should be given advices. But if a finding says that there was a meeting to organize children to participate in political campaigns, then it is a violation and we will report it to Panwaslu,” he said.

Such reports, however, should follow certain procedures. It is as specified in Law No. 12 of 2003 which underlies Panwaslu Decision no. 9 of 2003 concerning Procedure for Reporting of Election Violations. This Decision governs who should report, procedure for report submission and time for such submission. Therefore, this Decision also governs report receipt form, evaluation result form and report submission form to the General Election Commission and the Police.

“Cooperation from general public will help Panwaslu’s operation. It is difficult to follow up findings on election violation if no one wants to be a witness and no one gives any official report to Panwaslu,” said Nyak Arif Fadillah.
Until what age one is considered as a child?

“Based on the General Election Law, one who is 17 years old or above has a right to vote, and may participate in political campaigns.,” he replied.

This age limit is, somehow, different than Child Protection Law which specifies that a child is less than 18 years old, regardless his/her marital status.

“In this case, lex spesialis derogad lex generalis is applied,” he defended. Meaning, a special regulation may replace a general regulation.

Now, the election is a few days away. The Election Observer Board or Bawaslu has recorded a number of children involvements during 10 days-campaign period. They have received 99 reports from Panwaslu all over Indonesia, from 16 March to 25 March 2009.***

*) A contributor of Aceh Features in Banda Aceh, managing Sumber Post student publication, and a student of Islamic Teaching Faculty at State Islamic Institute of Ar Raniry.

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