Indonesian regional polls

Millions vote in historic regional elections in Indonesia

Officials in cowboy costumes preparing ballot slips at a polling station in Surabaya, East Java, yesterday. The decision to hold the regional elections on the same day was aimed at cutting costs and boosting efficiency.
Officials in cowboy costumes preparing ballot slips at a polling station in Surabaya, East Java, yesterday. The decision to hold the regional elections on the same day was aimed at cutting costs and boosting efficiency.PHOTO: REUTERS

Local polls held on same day across 8 provinces for first time

Indonesia has successfully pulled off its first regional elections that were held simultaneously across eight provinces in the vast archipelagic state yesterday.

Official results from the polls which covered 264 regions, or just over half of the electorates in Indonesia, will not be out until Dec 18, but sample counts as of 5pm in Jakarta do not indicate many surprises.

Sample counts by independent pollsters in four regions, including Indonesia's second largest city of Surabaya, South Tangerang, Kediri and Malang regencies, point to the incumbents being re-elected.

Polls opened from 7am to 1pm over three different time zones across the country yesterday, with about 100 million eligible voters having to choose from over 800 candidates contesting nine governor and vice-governor posts, as well as those of 224 district heads and their deputies, and 36 mayors and deputies.

The elected officials play a key role in the government, as they have the power to speed up or stall President Joko Widodo's economic reforms in regional areas.

Indonesia has never held elections with so many areas being contested at the same time. The decision to hold these elections on the same day was aimed at cutting costs and improving efficiency. In the future, all local polls will be conducted at the same time.

Mr Joko kept a close eye on proceedings yesterday from the presidential palace in Bogor. He also visited South Tangerang in Banten province, Java Island, to inspect the polls.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan also made his rounds. He said that while Indonesia proved at the general election last year that it can uphold democracy, "this is the first time Indonesia... is holding the regional elections simultaneously".

"We are being watched by the international community. We want to prove that democracy in Indonesia is mature enough," he said.

Thousands of foreign observers, including participants of the Election Visit Programme held in Indonesia this week, were in the country to monitor the polls. The provincial elections in Semarang, for instance, had as many as 2,634 observers in the Central Java city, reported The Jakarta Post yesterday.

These regional elections are the result of Indonesia's bid to end authoritarian rule in the world's third-largest democracy. It is through such direct elections that political outsiders such as Mr Joko were able to rise to power.

The local polls, however, were abolished last year by the President's political rivals, and were reinstated only after widespread public uproar against the move.

Political analyst Philips Vermonte from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta said the regional elections are "very significant" as they mark progress in Indonesia's democratic reforms.

"What we've been learning so far in the past 15 years, since we started the democratic process, is that we have to reform along the way," he told Agence France-Presse.

Yesterday's elections were held amid heightened security due to threats by domestic terror groups linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as increased scrutiny to prevent electoral fraud. More than 200,000 police and military personnel were deployed to the polling stations.

National police chief Badrodin Haiti said yesterday that any cases of alleged "money politics" will be investigated by the police. A group of people involved in a cash-for- votes scheme in three regions have been arrested.

Two other phases of such simultaneous elections will be held for the rest of the country in 2017 and 2018. Until then, the changes as a result of these latest polls will have a limited impact on the current structure of government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Millions vote in historic elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe