Indonesia Stages Unprecedented Vote

Arie Firdaus and Tia Asmara
190416_ID_Ballots_horse_1000.jpg Police officers and soldiers escort elections workers using horses to distribute ballot boxes to polling stations in remote villages in Tempurejo, East Java, Indonesia, April 15, 2019.

Updated at 3:38 p.m. ET on 2019-04-16

Citizens are heading to polling stations scattered across Indonesia’s vast archipelago as the nation holds its first simultaneous presidential and legislative polls, a single-day exercise in democracy viewed as one of the world’s most complex votes ever staged.

More than 190 million Indonesians are eligible to vote Wednesday at more than 800,000 polling stations in three time zones, officials with the General Election Commission (KPU) said.

Over a six-hour span voters will be electing a president, 575 members of the House of Representatives (DPR), 136 members of the Regional Representative Council (DPD) and nearly 20,000 members of local legislatures in 548 provinces, districts and municipalities.

“KPU is ready. I can say that preparations are 99 percent complete,” Election commissioner Pramono Ubaid said Tuesday, adding that weather and remote locations had strained preparations for the historic vote.

Officials were “racing against time in many places and battling against unfriendly weather. Some ballot papers needed to be replaced because they were damaged. But we believe all will be ready before voting day,” he said.

In Wednesday’s presidential contest, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the incumbent is again running against challenger Prabowo Subianto, a retired army special forces general whom he defeated in a closely contested election in 2014. Polls are scheduled to close at 1 p.m., although voters who are in line at closing time will be able to cast their ballots, officials said.

On Saturday night, before a three-day campaigning blackout kicked in on Sunday, Jokowi, Prabowo and their respective running mates met for a final nationally televised debate after months of campaigning culminated with rallies that drew tens of thousands of supporters.


The Lowy Institute, an independent and nonpartisan think-tank based in Australia, described the scale of the vote in the neighboring country to the north – Southeast Asia’s largest democracy – as unprecedented.

“It will be [the] world’s biggest direct presidential elections (because the U.S. uses an electoral college) and one of the most complicated single-day elections in global history,” according to a recent article in the Interpreter, a daily publication produced by the institute.

“[T]he scale of Indonesia’s electoral process is mind-boggling, with five separate elections at once, for the president, both houses of parliament, provincial legislatures and district/city councils,” it added, noting that the 2019 parliamentary elections in India, the world’s most populous democracy, were being staged in phases over six weeks in April and May.

The election price tag is 27.6 trillion rupiah (U.S. $1.96 billion), according to the Associated Press (AP). Election officials are providing more than 1.6 million bottles of halal-certified indelible ink for voters to dip a finger in after casting ballots at some 810,000 polling stations.

The KPU estimates that more than 17 million people are involved in ensuring that the elections go smoothly, including volunteers, guards and registered witnesses for every polling station, AP reported.


The run-up to the Indonesian election, however, has not been entirely seamless.

During the campaigning blackout period, a member of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) announced that his group had received 25 complaints about vote buying in 13 provinces.

“As many as 22 cases were uncovered by local election supervisors and three cases by the police,” Mochammad Afifuddin said.

Bawaslu, which oversees the General Election Agency, has expressed concerns throughout the campaign about efforts to buy votes.

In March, a legislative candidate in Central Java was arrested on suspicion of vote buying, with investigators saying they had seized 8 billion rupiah ($565,000). The cash was parceled out in envelopes and allegedly intended to be distributed to voters at dawn on Election Day.

In addition, Bawaslu officials on April 11 reported finding 40,000 to 50,000 ballots in Malaysian warehouses with many pre-marked for Jokowi and for legislative candidates in the National Democratic Party, a member of the ruling coalition.

“Bawaslu is calling for repeat voting for voters in Kuala Lumpur who voted via mail. This recommendation is to fulfill the right of Indonesian citizens and protect the integrity of the 2019 election,” Bawaslu member Divi Rahmad Bagja told reporters on Tuesday, adding that 320,000 were eligible to vote using the mail system.

He also called on KPU to dismiss two of its members based in Kuala Lumpur, where many Indonesian expatriates live.

“The election organizing committee in Kuala Lumpur has been proven to have failed to carry out their duties in an objective, professional and transparent manner,” Divi said.


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