Indonesia votes

Excitement and fun in Indonesia's democracy fiesta

Election officials dressed in costume to match the horror theme at a polling station in Lebak Bulus, Jakarta. Officials wearing superhero costumes preparing ballot papers in Surabaya, East Java. Efforts to increase voter turnout have taken on added u
Neighbours getting together after voting at a polling station in Jakarta yesterday. Many polling stations drew early birds excited about the historic election, in which Indonesians voted for their president and MPs on the same day for the first time. The presidential contest between incumbent President Joko Widodo and Mr Prabowo Subianto was the focus for many voters.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Election officials dressed in costume to match the horror theme at a polling station in Lebak Bulus, Jakarta. Officials wearing superhero costumes preparing ballot papers in Surabaya, East Java. Efforts to increase voter turnout have taken on added u
Election officials dressed in costume to match the horror theme at a polling station in Lebak Bulus, Jakarta. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Election officials dressed in costume to match the horror theme at a polling station in Lebak Bulus, Jakarta. Officials wearing superhero costumes preparing ballot papers in Surabaya, East Java. Efforts to increase voter turnout have taken on added u
Officials wearing superhero costumes preparing ballot papers in Surabaya, East Java. Efforts to increase voter turnout have taken on added urgency, as abstention rates were expected to hit 30 per cent, continuing a worrying decline. PHOTO: REUTERS

Election officials get creative to raise turnout, with one polling station adopting spooky look

It looked like a haunted house straight out of an amusement park: Blood-stained sheets, makeshift graves and rows of ghastly faces painted white.

Amid the "horror" were lists of voter names and ballot boxes - the few signs that voting was under way.

In Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, elections - which the locals have dubbed "pesta demokrasi" or "democracy fiesta" - are never a staid affair.

Rock stars and rappers headline campaign rallies. Discounts and freebies await those who have cast their votes.

The Gunong Balong polling station in South Jakarta - where election officials and voters alike turned up in their spooky best - as well as the many other booths around Indonesia with themes that ran the gamut from superhero to library, were just another way for Indonesians to inject an air of fun and celebration into the process.

That has become ever more urgent this year, with voter turnout a major concern. Abstention rates were expected to hit 30 per cent, continuing a worrying decline.

For the polling station in Gunong Balong, getting creative helped boost its voter numbers.

 
 

Mr Adnan Yasin, head of the station's committee, told reporters after polls closed at 1pm (2pm Singapore time) that the turnout hit 80 per cent - up from 65 per cent in the 2014 presidential polls.

"We wanted to introduce funny and scary elements to our polling station. This would spark their curiosity and make people come," said the 37-year-old. "It worked well."

Many polling stations, which were open from 7am, drew early birds excited for a chance to vote in a historic election.

Yesterday, Indonesians voted for their president and MPs on the same day for the first time.

Retired teacher Sonya Inna, 70, who arrived before the polls opened, said: "I came earlier than usual because I am enthusiastic."

She had been worried about the complex voting process - which involves five ballot papers to choose the president and vice-president, as well as four other officials at the local and regional level - but the entire process took her just three minutes in the end. She was helped by information about the voting process she had received in WhatsApp groups.

Still, even as queues of eager voters formed early, a few polling stations were dogged by delays - which some voters dismissed as "part and parcel of Indonesian life".

Part-time used-car dealer Arman said voting was delayed for an hour at his polling station in North Sukabumi, Jakarta, because official witnesses for the polls were late.

 
 

The presidential election - a rematch of the 2014 contest between incumbent President Joko Widodo and retired army general Prabowo Subianto - was the focus of many voters, with the legislative candidates taking a backseat.

Batamindo Industrial Park employee Giovani Boru Sembiring, 24, said: "I am very excited to be voting for our president and vice-president, but I have not thought much about the legislative candidates for Parliament and other local councils because I don't know any of them."

And voters were vocal about their picks, be it for Mr Joko and running mate Ma'ruf Amin, or Mr Prabowo and running mate Sandiaga Uno.

Referring to Mr Joko by his popular moniker, Ms Sandi, a 33-year-old resident from West Jakarta, said: "Of course I will choose Jokowi.

"We have seen what he has done these past 41/2 years. He should be president again. Last time I was in (Kuala Lumpur) for the election, so I couldn't vote. I am very excited to do so this time."

Before Mr Antoni, who goes by one name, headed off to vote in Central Jakarta, he hung around the South Jakarta polling station where Mr Sandiaga would cast his vote, looking for a wefie chance with the businessman-turned-politician.

The bicycle salesman, who voted for Mr Prabowo in the 2014 presi-dential polls, said: "I still think Mr Prabowo has the temperament needed to lead Indonesia. He is firm, and a military man. And he has the better choice of running mate this time around. Mr Sandiaga is very energetic and charismatic, and with a strong business background.

 
 

"Prabo-Sandi is better than Jokowi-Ma'ruf."

The two presidential hopefuls showed up at their polling stations in good spirits.

Mr Joko, who was at his polling station about two hours before the polls closed, said he remained optimistic, adding: "The way we work is, we are always optimistic."

And to a question on his expected winning margin, the President, in his signature folksy drawl, told reporters: "Later lah, be patient, we will see later. It has only been a few hours, we will see later."

Mr Prabowo, who showed up bright and early at his polling station in Hambalang, West Java, was also feeling good about his chances, and posed gamely for the media with two ink-stained fingers - his pair's ballot number is "02" - extended.

"I am feeling optimistic," he told reporters, according to The Jakarta Post. "We estimate (we will win) with 63 per cent."

  • Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and Jeffrey Hutton in Jakarta, Linda Yulisman in Bandung (West Java), Adiguna in Medan (North Sumatra) and F. Pangestu in Batam (Riau Islands)
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Excitement and fun in Indonesia's democracy fiesta'. Print Edition | Subscribe