Early overseas voting pattern points to high Indonesia poll turnout: Report

An armed Indonesian policeman watches as a worker carries ballot boxes for distribution to election centers, at the Commission on Election in Yogyakarta, central Java island on July 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
An armed Indonesian policeman watches as a worker carries ballot boxes for distribution to election centers, at the Commission on Election in Yogyakarta, central Java island on July 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - The turnout for Indonesia's presidential election on Wednesday should be high if the early overseas voting pattern is any indication, said a report.

But poor preparedness by Indonesian polling organisers in Hong Kong has sparked accusations of voter disenfranchisement, The Jakarta Globe reported.

In Hong Kong, more than 23,500 people voted, representing a threefold jump from the turnout in the legislative election in April, the newspaper said.

The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore reported that more than 22,200 Indonesians there turned up to cast their ballot on Sunday, some even lining up outside the embassy from 6 pm, two hours before balloting was scheduled to begin, while another 17,000 sent in their ballots by mail, according to the newspaper.

The legislative election in April, by comparison, drew fewer than 24,000 ballots from Indonesians living in Singapore, said the report.

The embassies in Vienna and Beijing also reported marginally higher voter turnout, it said.

The ballots from overseas will only be counted from Wednesday onwards, along with the votes cast inside the country, where some 190 million people are registered to vote. No independent exit polls were available for the overseas voting, said the report.

The turnout in April's legislative election was 65 per cent, but could be much higher for Wednesday's presidential poll, said Haryadi, a political expert at Airlangga University in Surabaya, who credited the numbers to the enthusiasm sparked by the prospect of seeing Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, a non-establishment politician, win the highest office in the land.

"It's interesting. Most Indonesian voters abroad are leaning toward Joko. This is very unusual," The Jakarta Globe quoted Haryadi as saying.

He speculated that one factor could be the worry that former military general Prabowo Subianto, who has espoused a nationalistic rhetoric, could alienate foreign governments, thereby possibly making them more hostile or less welcoming of Indonesian workers.

"Indonesians overseas perceive that there'll be an enormous problem of relations between Indonesia and the international community if Prabowo is elected as president. Their presence there will be disturbed," Haryadi said.

In Hong Kong, in particular, anecdotal evidence suggests that Joko was the candidate of choice among the thousands who cast their votes, said the newspaper. But with so many people packed at Hong Kong's Victoria Park, where officials set up a polling station, hundreds were unable to cast their ballots in time.

More than 114,000 people were registered to vote in the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, according to the Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong.

Some 200 Indonesians who were unable to vote, mainly domestic workers, staged a protest when the polling station was closed shortly after 5 pm, according to the report.

While the consulate says its permit from the Hong Kong authorities only allowed it to operate the polling station from 8.30am to 5pm, officials from presidential candidate Joko Widodo's team accused it of unfairly targeting those likely to vote for Joko.

"We will take action and protest to the KPU (General Elections Commission) and the Bawaslu (Elections Supervisory Body)", said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or PDI-P.

"We want Bawaslu and the KPU to immediately investigate the possibility that the organising committee was not neutral, and we want them to immediately allow the disenfranchised voters to vote," said Charles Honoris, another PDI-P politician.

Indonesian internet users took to Facebook and Twitter to upload pictures and video of the protest in Hong Kong, as well as video of the ensuing debate between voters and officials from the KPU's Overseas Election Committee, or PPLN.

Arista Devi, an Indonesian living in Hong Kong, said the trouble started after the polling station was closed, with a long line of people still waiting to cast their ballots.

"There were still many people queuing but suddenly they closed the gate to the polling station and the voters, who were mostly supporters of Joko Widodo, started to yell 'Jokowi, Jokowi!'" Arista said as quoted by Tribunnews.com.

She accused the PPLN officials of failing to anticipate voter turnout, which was significantly higher than for the legislative election in April.

"The committee had set the deadline for 5pm, but it turned out the number of voters was overwhelmingly high. The queue stretched 500 meters," she said.

Arista also claimed that a PPLN official had said the polling station would be reopened, but only for those voting for Joko's rival, Prabowo.

Her claim could not be verified.

The Foreign Ministry has laid the blame for the fiasco wholly at the feet of the KPU, according to The Jakarta Globe.

"Our job is only to support and provide facilities for PPLN," said Michael Tene, a spokesman for the ministry. "The venue [for the polling station] and everything else were decided by the KPU and the PPLN."

The ministry has, however, pointed out that because the polling station was set up in a public space in a foreign country, PPLN officials were obliged to strictly obey the operating hours stipulated by the local authorities.

The KPU, meanwhile, denied that its officials had acted unfairly or offered to reopen the polling station only to Prabowo supporters.

"I don't have enough information about what happened" in Hong Kong, said Ferry Kurnia Rizkiansyah, a KPU commissioner. "I'm afraid of giving the wrong statement, but I want to emphasize that the committee was not favouring any candidate and we also believe that the committee was not depriving the voters of their constitutional right to vote."

Ferry said the fact that an estimated 200 people were unable to vote should not be labeled "an injustice."

"I believe the committee was obeying the rules. I assume they were following the agreement that the voting should end at 5pm," he said.

Marzuki Alie, the speaker of the House of Representatives and a staunch supporter of Prabowo, said the KPU had failed to learn from its mishandling of previous overseas ballots.

"There was a similar case where Indonesian migrant workers had just one day to vote and not all of them were able to because of the narrow time frame," he said. "That should have served as a lesson for the KPU, but apparently it's happened again."

He urged the KPU to take "emergency measures" to ensure that those who were unable to vote on Sunday could still cast their ballot.

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