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Highlights in the media today: President calls for ‘bureaucratic flexibility’ in pandemic response, Election could exacerbate pandemic: Epidemiologist, Indonesia sees debt rising to fund COVID-19 response.

President Joko Widodo on Tuesday (September 8) emphasized the importance of bureaucratic flexibility in mitigating the impact of the pandemic while maintaining government integrity amid the inherent challenges of the ongoing emergency.

The government has previously pledged to cut bureaucratic red tape to accelerate healthcare spending, including disbursing incentives to medical workers.

The government has put the development of a COVID-19 vaccine on its list of top priorities and plans to set aside Rp37 trillion for vaccine procurement next year. Indonesia hopes to begin producing a locally developed COVID-19 candidate vaccine called Merah Putih by the middle of 2021.

As of September 9 16:41 (GMT+7), Indonesia had confirmed 203,342 COVID-19 cases, with 145,200 recoveries and 8,336 deaths.

The Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) has found that 243 prospective candidates had ignored health protocols by bringing along large entourages to register their candidacies with the local offices of the General Elections Commision (KPU) on September 4-6.

Epidemiologist Tri Yunis Miko Wahyuno said that such a lack of discipline in social distancing during elections would definitely increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the country. He warned that the transmissions could further escalate if people kept neglecting protocols in the coming campaign season, which will run from September 26 to December 5.

Experts and activists have repeatedly urged the authorities to postpone the elections. They were concerned that the elections would put voters and election organizers at risk of contracting the virus. They were also concerned about a low voter turnout, which would undermine democracy.

President Joko Widodo, however, said on Tuesday (September 8) that the government could not postpone the elections. Independent Election Monitoring Committee Chairman Jojo Rohi has asked the government to consider postponing the elections in COVID-19 yellow and red zones.

The country’s debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio had risen to 34.53% as of August, a jump from the 29.8% recorded for the same month last year, Deputy Finance Minister Suahasil Nazara said on Monday (September 7). He added that the ratio could reach 37.6% by the end of the year.

The debt-to-GDP ratio rose because of a lower interest rate and the weakening of the rupiah exchange rate, as well as the rising issuance of sovereign debt papers (SBNs). The government expected the debt ratio to reach about 36%-42% of GDP next year, he said.

The government also expected to record a state budget deficit of 6.34% of GDP this year and 5.5% in 2021. It has pledged to reinstate the budget deficit cap of 3% by 2023.

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