It never occurred to Lini Zurlia that she would become the subject of a controversy surrounding golput (voting abstention) on social media. A photo she posted late last month, depicting her holding up a sticker saying “Saya Golput”, was originally intended as harmless self-expression.
However, what initially began as a declaration of political preference quickly turned into a public referendum on political participation.
“I honestly didn’t know I was going to go viral. I openly declared as an abstainer on Twitter because I could no longer stand the toxic narrative of cebong [tadpole] and kampret [small bat]. So I turned to abstention as an alternate narrative and as a form of protest,” Lini told The Jakarta Post, while referring to supporters of Jokowi and Prabowo.
Her Twitter page, @Lini_ZQ, is home to a pinned thread explaining the reasons behind her commitment to abstention, in addition to her controversial photo.
At the time of writing, the photo had generated over 2,000 retweets since its posting on Mar. 28.
In recent weeks, a group of nonvoters has emerged from obscurity to start a campaign advocating abstention as a form of protest against political candidates as the country holds its collective breath for the presidential election on April 17.
The movement, dubbed Saya Golput [I Abstain], has recently become the center of online discourse surrounding the coming presidential election which pits incumbent candidate President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo against challenger Prabowo Subianto.
In Indonesian, the term golput can mean abstention. But historically, the word refers to those who came to the polling stations and spoiled the ballots as a political protest against elections under the New Order regime.
The hashtag #SayaGolput has for weeks served as a proverbial battleground between those who remain steadfast in their voting preferences and those who choose to support neither of the candidates.
Lini, who currently serves as an advocacy officer for human rights activist network ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, has been thrust into the forefront of the movement, and eventually helped it gain traction as the rest of the public braced themselves for the coming election.
“Abstention is a perfectly legitimate option in a scenario where the only available options are candidates who misrepresent the people’s aspirations,” she said.
She pointed to a tweet posted on Jokowi’s official Twitter account as another reason why she had become disillusioned with the coming election.
She considered Jokowi’s tweet, which dismisses rumors of legalizing LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) as misinformation, to be a deliberate effort to erase the existence of the country’s non-heterosexual demographic.
“Now you know why I choose to abstain, #SayaGolput. Hello, my queer fellas, you all are hoax! [sic]” Lini wrote in reply to Jokowi’s tweet.
“I supported and voted for Jokowi back in 2014 because his promises regarding human rights appealed to me. It was the first time I ever voted for a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, five years later, Jokowi has failed to deliver on his promises,” Lini told the Post.
Voter turnout in Indonesia has traditionally been high, consistently exceeding 70 percent for national elections since the end of the Soeharto regime.
However, the abstention rate has shown an increasing trend since the 1999 general elections, and disillusioned voters have recently taken to social media to voice their intention to abstain from voting on April 17 because of their disappointment with both presidential tickets, particularly with their stances on human rights.
In 2014, Jokowi campaigned on a platform of, among other things, solving past cases of human rights abuse, but activists and experts have criticized the incumbent for a lack of progress on uncovering atrocities committed in the country’s past.
Meanwhile, ever since the 2014 election, Prabowo Subianto’s candidacy has raised deep concerns among human rights activists over the candidate’s alleged involvement in the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1997 and 1998.
Those who declared to abstain have provoked strong responses from members of the public.
Lini, for instance, has recently come under fire online as many Indonesian netizens have found her views to be disruptive to the election and the country’s democracy. Some even went so far as trading ad hominem blows, often openly mocking her for being a radical activist.
“Golput snob + SJW [social justice warrior] + Feminist + open-minded starter pack,” Twitter user @hairulad wrote, alongside Lini’s photo.
Twitter user @InfoTwitwor posted a side-by-side comparison between a photo of Lini and a still image of Edna Mode, a snarky fictional designer of superhero costumes from Pixar’s popular animated feature The Incredibles.
“I am very flattered that people actually compared me to Edna. She’s such an iconic character. I definitely took it as a compliment,” Lini responded, adding that those who meant the Edna Mode comparison as an insult misunderstood the fictional character.
Last month, Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri dismissed abstention as “a cowardly move”.
“As Indonesian citizens, we are obliged to vote. Those who choose to abstain are cowards,” she said during a speech, as quoted by tempo.co.
Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) politician Tsamara Amany defended nonvoters, reassuring them that they were not cowards.
“If you choose to abstain, you are not a coward. We will never get tired of convincing you, but we will always respect your decision,” Tsamara wrote in a tweet.
Lini said she had always welcomed anyone looking to engage in discussions about abstention.
“I am okay with the deluge of responses I’ve been receiving, however harsh they might be. I’m okay as long as people do not physically respond with violence,” she said.
Lini added that people who chose to abstain still had the right to critique the government since the country was bound by the constitution to protect and serve its citizens, regardless of their political preferences.