One of the highlights of my summer came a few weeks ago when I had the chance to participate on a panel with former Constitutional Court Justice I Dewa Gede Palguna. In addition to being a member of the Constitutional Court, Justice Palguna was also one of the framers of the Constitutional Amendments from 1999 to 2002. The focus of the panel was to compare the Indonesian and American governments and legal systems, so Justice Palguna spoke about Indonesia and I spoke about the United States.
My next project focused on the challenges of holding elections during the pandemic, as both as both Indonesia and the United States will hold elections later this year. Although Covid-19 is a major concern in both countries, leaders in the two countries face different circumstances in planning and preparing for the elections. One major difference between Indonesia and the U.S. is the possibility of postponing elections. In Indonesia, regional elections were supposed to be held in September but have already been pushed back to December, and some are calling for the elections to be further delayed due to the pandemic. Although Indonesian government leaders have spoken out against postponing the elections again, it nevertheless remains a possibility should public health considerations require it. In the United States, while pushing back the November elections is possible, it is highly unlikely since the date of the general elections was set by Congress in 1845 and changing it would require Congress to amend that legislation.
Another key difference between the two countries is the manner in which elections will be held. Whereas in the United States, there are widespread calls to expand vote by mail in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, doing so in Indonesia – an archipelagic country comprised of more than 17,000 islands, some of which are difficult to access – would be extremely difficult. Like in the United States, election officials in Indonesia have put in place strict health and safety protocols at polling stations, but there have been no other measures to mitigate the transmission of Covid among voters.
Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to speak with and learn from current and former leaders in government, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, and academics who are experts in constitutional law, election law, and comparative law. My work for the Constitutional Court and PUSaKO provided insight into how new democracies structure their constitutions and legal systems and create institutions in order to reduce corruption and promote fair and transparent elections.
I’m still disappointed that I wasn’t able to visit Indonesia (but am very grateful that my family and I have stayed healthy during the pandemic). Once it became clear that travel would not be possible and that I would be working remotely this summer, one of my biggest concerns was that I would miss out on the opportunity to learn about Indonesian culture and participate in a cultural exchange. It’s difficult to truly know a city or country without ever being there on the ground – wandering the streets, hearing the language and the sounds of daily life, visiting grocery stores, taking public transportation, trying the food, and getting a feel for the atmosphere. But technology helps. Even though I couldn’t experience life in Jakarta and Padang, I did watch travel and food shows and vlogs of others who visited or live in those places, which provided insight into local traditions, values, cuisine, and more. I also kept up with the news in Indonesia and read about the country’s history, which helped me develop a better understanding of Indonesian politics and current events.
Although this summer was very different than I’d imagined it would be, I’m so thankful to everyone at PUSaKO and the Constitutional Court who helped me over the summer and facilitated my remote internship. Once traveling is allowed again, Indonesia is at the top of my list.