318 election officials die, more than 2,000 ill after Indonesia's mammoth single-day poll

Ms Masnun, 38, a widow of a security official assigned to a Bekasi polling station who died of exhaustion, points to a white board containing praises on her late husband and other victims.
Ms Masnun, 38, a widow of a security official assigned to a Bekasi polling station who died of exhaustion, points to a white board containing praises on her late husband and other victims.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

JAKARTA - Kindergarten teacher Tursina Maya's days were packed on and around the election on April 17, the biggest single day poll held anywhere in the world and one of the most complicated with 240,000 candidates running for office.

For the first time ever, Indonesians were simultaneously taking part in presidential as well legislative polls.

A day ahead of the poll, Ms Tursina and her neighbours, who were tasked to manage their polling station in North Jakarta, held meetings, set up a tent, desks and instruction signs. They worked tirelessly from morning to midnight.

On D-day, she continued working the clock, administering to voters before proceeding to the more daunting task of counting ballots.

The next day, the 42-year-old mother ended up in hospital and had to be warded for four nights because of exhaustion and elevated blood pressure.

She was, however, luckier than Abdul Rohim, 40, a security officer assigned to a polling station in Bekasi, West Java. He was admitted to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), suffering from exhaustion and heart pain. He died subsequently.

As at 8am on Tuesday (April 30), 318 polling station committee officials have died and 2,232 fell ill, said the general election commission (KPU), which oversaw the polls.

 
 
 

"Many of them had to stay up through two nights and not while they had coffee to watch football games, but while they were under pressure amid efforts of ensuring there was no miscounting," said Mr Pramono Ubaid Tantowi, a KPU commissioner, on Tuesday.

After polls closed on April 17, ballots were first manually counted at more than 800,000 polling stations. The counting at many polling stations lasted until past midnight and officials then had to oversee the transport of ballot boxes to collection points, which were plagued with long queues, adding to delays. The results of the polling stations were then tallied at the sub-district, district and provincial offices before ending up in the national vote tally in Jakarta.

Election officials were tasked to monitor closely each stage of the counting process.

A normal person would be able to work hard for eight straight hours and then stay awake for the following eight hours before he has to get six hours' sleep, Mr Pramono said, citing medical doctors.

Under the existing election law, manual vote counting at a polling station must be completed within the same day (midnight deadline) and a Supreme Court decree stipulates it could be extended for 12 hours conditionally but without any break in the vote-counting period, Mr Pramono noted.

"I started my day around 5am and wrapped up around the same time the next day," said Ms Tursina, stressing that staying up all night working was the part that caused her physical stamina to drop.

After finishing vote counting at around midnight, she oversaw the transport of ballot boxes to a collection point until 3am.

She recalled that in the last election in 2014, when the legislative poll was held a few months earlier ahead of the presidential one, manual vote counting mostly finished by 5pm.

Mr Abdul Rohim's widow, Madam Masnun, 38, said her husband felt exceptionally tired after the Wednesday polls and rested at home. He was rushed to a clinic on Friday and died on the subsequent Wednesday (April 24).

"On Monday (April 22) he said he felt pain on the chest. Then he did not speak at all until Wednesday," Ms Masnun told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Jakarta held by Ombudsman Indonesia.

The seminar was the beginning of a study of the 2019 election by the independent agency overseeing public services in the country.