Polling agencies and political consultancies have mushroomed ever since direct elections were held. This is one business that does not incur losses.
SEVEN years following the establishment of Lingkar Survei Indonesia, or the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI), Denny Januar Aly has never been bothered again with material affairs. LSI today boasts five subsidiary firms that handle everything linked to the success of the general elections be it advertising, political consultations, thorough research work, or holding election surveys.
Denny considers LSI as the "supermarket" for general elections, admitting that he accepts and caters to all orders dealing with political consultation services: studying and correctly mapping out political connections and whom a client can depend on for political support, the building of a political image, strategies to win an election, mobilizing opinions on a massive scale and arranging for post-election quick counts.
Denny refused to spell out how much LSI had churned this year. His office on Jalan Pemuda in East Jakarta is equipped with a billiard table and a cafe. Each year, he said, he sends of his 80 employees, including drivers and messenger boys and girls, for overseas holidays. "This year, they go to Hong Kong," he said last Tuesday.
LSI's operations are tackled by executives and employees who, according to Denny, own 30 percent of the company shares. "The rest of the time I compose poetry and travel," said the 49-year-old.
Survey institutions and political consultancies have come under intense public scrutiny after the first round of the Jakarta gubernatorial elections this year, which resulted differently from the outcome predicted by every survey institutions in town.
Every pollsters and political consultancy had bet their money on the incumbent governor Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli to win. Instead, the Joko Widodo-Basuki Tjahaya Purnama ticket won the most number of votes.
Denny claims that the polling survey business and political consultancies in Jakarta would never lose out because consulting fees are always paid up front. "This is a very liquid business," Denny said, who spent Rp550 million in establishing LSI. He earned back that amount following a polling at the request of Ismeth Abdullah, who ran for the Riau governorship in 2005.
Since then, Denny claims that the LSI has been overwhelmed with orders from candidates running in regional elections. The presidential, gubernatorial, mayoral and regency direct elections since 2004 have been a boon for his firm. "It is a given that any gubernatorial candidate or a candidate running for regent will require a popularity survey to gauge his or her electability factor," Denny said.
Today, there are 497 regencies and municipalities, plus 33 provinces. Each year, 100 regions hold direct elections. If each region had an average of three candidates, there are 300 clients who need political consultancy services. In a year, each candidate holds two or three surveys. Each survey costs between Rp100 million to Rp300 million, depending on their geographical location. The more remote the loction, or the more populated the region is, the higher the surveys will cost.
According to the executive director of Cirus Surveyors Group, Andrinof A. Chaniago, most of the operational costs go to interview respondents. Four hundred respondents, for instance, need 20 interviewers who should be trained and given expenses, plus fees of some Rp50,000 per questionnaire. Even so, the company manages to pocket a 20 to 30 percent profit.
Throughout 2005 to 2011, LSI served 21 gubernatorial candidates and 50 mayoralty/regent candidates. At least, this is the figure advertised in the media, since their clients won previous elections. The names of losing candidates are never publicized. Denny said that even though candidates lose in the race, the consultants would still receive consulting fees. The losing clients, he said, do not normally get upset over mistaken predictions of the survey organizations they hire.
Idris Manggabarani, for instance, does not regret his participation in the race for the Makassar mayor job in 2008. This property businessman spent dozens of billions of rupiahs but he always finished second. Idris used the services of LSI as his political consultant. Even though his popularity rose, he always came second to Ilham Arief Sirajuddin, the current mayor. Eventually, he terminated the contract with LSI prior to election day. "There was a commitment [on their part] which we disagreed with," said Idris.
This kind of business does not require a great amount of money to market the product. What is needed is correct data and analysis on the candidate's level of popularity. The aspiring politicians themselves would contact the survey institutions. Those who aspire to become mayor, governor or a regent would contact a political consultant one or two years prior to elections.
Two years are considered adequate to turn minds around and gain support from the public, if an initial survey shows poor results. Within a two-year period, six surveys are conducted. Two surveys in the first year, and four in the second year. According to Denny, as election day approaches, surveys will be conducted again to monitor the actions and the tendencies of voters.
Take Syahrul Yasin Limpo. This South Sulawesi Governor contacted Denny two years before the 2008 elections. As deputy governor, Syahrul's initial popularity was only 20 percent. Amin Syam, the incumbent governor, enjoyed a 40 percent popularity rating.
Syahrul, who secretly wanted the governor's seat, had all the pre-conditions of a loser. He belonged to a minority ethnic group in Makassar, Golkar the biggest political party supported Amin, and he had a limited amount of money. "I offered my own money, with a condition. The condition is that if he won, he would pay [me] double," said Denny. Syahrul did win.
Syahful admitted that Denny helped him. But he denied he reportedly borrowed money for election campaigns. "Denny was interested in my work program, and he said I had potential," said the Golkar politician who is trying to retain his gubernatorial post in the 2013 elections. He will be challenged by a candidate from the Democrat Party, Ilham Arief Sirajuddin.
It is not only the candidates who seek the help of survey institutions. Ilham claimed he was approached by many similar agencies, including Denny J.A., for the 2013 elections. And he asked Denny to conduct an initial survey to explore his popularity. Nevertheless, for next year's election, he has booked an order for the services of Lembaga Survei Indonesia (Indonesian Survey Institute) led by Saiful Mujani. His reason: "Saiful's institution is more trusted and has achieved better."
Charta Politika uses other methods. This institution holds and awards a Charta Politika Award to political figures, based on the names frequently mentioned by the media. Even though initially it only presents an award, later it opens a network with candidates for regional government heads. "Within a year we serve 20 clients," said Yunarto Wijaya, research director.
Like Denny, Yunarto claimed that since 2010, he has brought victory to his 100 clients. Among them was Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, who secured a seat in the House of Representatives (DPR) representing Pacitan, East Java, in 2009. In addition to surveys, Yunarto said that what Charta did was also to provide accompaniment and devising a strategy to win the election.
Charta chargescosts Rp110 million to Rp250 million for every survy it carries out. Generally, the survey method is the same in every institution making a random selection of respondents, interviewing them, and processing [the interviews] into data to suit the needs of the candidate, and making an analysis for 14 days. "Besides consulting services, we conduct a door to door campaign," said Yunarto.
Conducting a survey is a chief element of the strategy. Attempts to boost popularity are based on the data explored to discover what the targetted community needs. In such a case, the ethics of a survey institution is questionable. Absence of an audit, and the fact that survey institutions work with consultants, makes it difficult to access the methods and the survey data. Furthermore, said Yunarto, normally the candidates refused to reveal their tactics and political consultants.
In Padang, for instance, during the 2008 gubernatorial elections, Cirus Surveyors Group failed to clinch an order because the candidate who came to him turned to another survey group which offered a lower contract price. As this group was still inexperienced, they took the wrong samples: they thought that the more respondents there were, the better. They took 10,000 respondents without random sampling. "And they interviewed only 6,000 of them. The data were compiled as inputs and announced," said Andrinof Chaniago. "Certainly, the result was totally wrong."
The burgeoning business of survey institutions are now expanding into various regions. Asosiasi Riset Opini Publik Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Public Opinion Research) now has 37 subsidiary institutions. Perhimpunan Survei Opini Publik Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Public Opinion Surveys) has 21 institutions. Not to mention other "instant" institutions setting up shop just during the regional government heads elections. "Lots of them, and they don't register themselves," said Andrinof, who now leads the Association of Indonesian Public Opinion Surveys.
The allure of this business is tempting because the expenses are not necessarily borne by the candidates. The case of Saiful Mujani's Research and Consulting in the Regency of Buol, Central Sulawesi, is an example. Saiful who catered to Regent Amran Batalipu to win him the election, received fees from the company of tycoon Hartati Murdaya who owns a palm oil plantation in Buol. Saiful was questioned by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) regarding Hartati's bribes to Amran. Saiful told reporters he ran his business professionally and did not know anything about bribery.
Generally other businessmen use the same strategy when funding one of the candidates for regional heads. According to a public relations practitioner who has handled many gubernatorial and mayor candidates, businessmen usually hire a survey institution to gauge the possible victory of the candidate they support.
When the survey indicates that a candidate will win the election, the businessmen would start making "cash donations." Therefore, said the source, at present, no candidates suffer financial losses despite losing their bid for the elections. "As far as I know, in fact many have more money in their coffers even though they lose the race," he said.
The issue of ethics is an endless argument. According to Andrinof, survey institutions should be separated from consultancies or political consultants. Also, the survey institutions should publicly announce the parties placing an order for their services and the source of the funding. "The point is, survey data is used in the campaign to influence the general public in their choice, since the institution in question is the campaign team," said Andrinof who is Jokowi's consultant in Jakarta.
Yunarto feels it is all right to commercialize surveys. He said: "Surveys may be wrong or mistaken, but it must not tell lies."
By Bagja Hidayat, Anggrita Desyani (Jakarta), Irmawati, Sulfaedar Pay (Makassar)
No. 49/12, July 31, 2012