‘Dirty Vote’ documentary on alleged election fraud goes viral in Indonesia

Screenshot of the opening title of ‘Dirty Vote’ on YouTube. Fair use

Dirty Vote,” a documentary on alleged electoral fraud in Indonesia, was released just ahead of the general elections on February 14, and immediately went viral. The documentary was directed by Dandhy Laksono, a journalist, filmmaker, and activist known for his in-depth documentaries that often tackle social, environmental, and political issues in Indonesia.

Dirty Vote tells of the intricacies of the purported systemic, structured, and massive election fraud that the film contends threatens the very fabric of Indonesia's democracy throughout the electoral process by the current president, Joko Widodo (nicknamed Jokowi), which includes but are not limited to, manipulations of electoral mechanisms, strategic distribution of social assistance programs to entice voters, and coercion of village and community leaders.

Nearing the end of his second mandate, Widodo denied accusations that he was grooming a new political dynasty. Despite the denial, his eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the city mayor of Solo, is the running mate of Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander and the former son-in-law of Indonesia’s longest-ruling leader, President Suharto. Prior to his appointment as defense minister in 2020, Subianto was barred from entering the United States for alleged rights abuses.

Widodo's youngest son, Kaesang Pengarep, was named the leader of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a political party targeting young citizens. Besides his two sons, Widodo’s son-in-law is a city mayor of Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest urban area.

In a press conference, Subianto's campaign team rejected the allegations made in the documentary. “The majority of what was told in the movie was something slanderous. It's a hate narrative that is very assumptive and very unscientific,” said Habiburokhman, deputy chair of Subianto's campaign team.

According to Indonesia’s Election Body (KPU), more than 200 million Indonesians were eligible to vote on February 14 for the presidential and legislative elections. While the votes are still being tallied, unofficial results and exit surveys suggest that Prabowo and Gibran are leading by a large margin.

The documentary, initially made available on its dedicated YouTube channel, hit over 13 million views within a couple of days, until it encountered an unexpected hurdle when searches for it on YouTube shortly after its upload returned no results.  This led to a re-upload by the Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK) to ensure the documentary remained accessible. By February 13, the video had garnered 8 million views, 48 hours since its re-upload.  Despite drawing millions of views and considerable engagement, the documentary has been set to private by the uploader on the PSHK YouTube channel during the week of the election. This move was not explicitly explained.

The Indonesian government has shown tendencies toward harsh measures in online content regulation.  The country's regulatory framework, notably through its Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UU ITE), empowers authorities to control and sometimes restrict digital content under broad criteria, including defamation, hate speech, and misinformation.

Reported for slander

Dandhy Laksono, along with the policy researchers who contributed to the film, Zainal Arifin Mochtar, Feri Amsari, and Bivitri Susanti, have been reported to the police for slander.

The complaint came from a community of Islamic boarding school students (known locally as “Santri”) called the Indonesian Santri Communication Forum (Foksi). Foksi is seemingly linked to PSI, the political party led by the youngest son of President Widodo.

The planned public screening of “Dirty Vote” in Jakarta hit a snag when the venue management canceled the event, citing a “violation of campaign recess rule.”

Undeterred, a few netizens stepped into the fray, organizing interactive public screenings through their personal YouTube accounts, where viewers can simultaneously watch and comment during the screening. This move circumvented the cancellation and allowed netizens to watch the film despite the digital censorship.

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