Smartphone-Wielding Indonesians Tasked With Ensuring Fair Elections

By Saw Yan Naing 7 April 2014

JAKARTA — Polling watchdogs in Indonesia have deployed an electronic application called Mata Massa that allows ordinary citizens to report election-related violations through their smartphones, with organizers having received more than 1,500 complaints ahead of elections due to take place on Wednesday.

Ratna Ariyanti, board member of the Mata Massa steering committee, told The Irrawaddy that the aim of the app was to help in monitoring election-related violations in Indonesia, such as vote-buying or other deviations from accepted practice during the election.

“Mata Massa means ‘eyes of the people.’ We deployed 200 key persons to monitor the election campaigns and report about election-related violations. We so far have received 1,509 reports and 1,390 of them are verified,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Introduced by the Jakarta-based Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI), also known as the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Mata Massa was first conceived to monitor journalists in November 2013.

“We first launched the application to monitor reports of whether they received bribes or were being biased in reporting. But, as the election is approaching, we thought it might be good to also monitor the election using this technology,” said Ariyanti, who is also a member of the AJI.

“We got positive responses from tech-savvy citizens. The online application is easy. You can download it through your smartphones and report from anywhere if you see violations. And we also encourage people to send election violation reports by phone text messages if they find difficulties,” she added.

Mata Massa would seem particularly well-suited to Indonesia, a country whose citizens are wired to their mobile phones. Some Indonesians carry two to three handheld devices, and the number of mobile phones in use reportedly exceeds the country’s population count.

“Most people here have more than one phone each. We estimate that more than 270 million mobile phones are being used. It is higher than the total population [240 million] in the country,” said Zulfiani Lubis, chief editor of the Jakarta-based TV station ANTV.

Members of the AJI say they have been receiving election violation repots since January of this year, with reports submitted via BlackBerrys, iPhones and other smartphones.

The 200 election observers deployed by the AJI are university students, journalists and NGO workers. According to the AJI, tech-savvy average citizens are also sending election-related violations to the alliance.

Umar Idris, chairman of the AJI, told the Jakarta Post, an English-language newspaper in the Indonesian capital, that most complaints his organization has received were related to administrative violations, such as campaign materials posted in inappropriate places. Vote-buying allegations have also been reported.

Indonesia’s legislative elections will be held on Wednesday, followed by a presidential election in July. An estimate 200,000 candidates will contest more than 19,000 open slots in the April 9 legislative elections.

The hot presidential candidate at the moment is Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta. Popular among the grassroots for his everyman image and better known as “Jokowi,” the governor is expected to compete to succeed Indonesia’s current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in a poll slated for July 9. Yudhoyono’s term in office will officially end in October.

The Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing is a fellow of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), and this article is published under a SEAPA-sponsored program covering the 2014 Indonesian elections.