318 polling officials dead, 2,232 ill in election aftermath

Madam Masnun, the widow of a security officer who died of exhaustion and heart pain after working long hours at a Bekasi polling station, writing a tribute to her late husband and others who succumbed to election fatigue monitoring Indonesia's April
Madam Masnun, the widow of a security officer who died of exhaustion and heart pain after working long hours at a Bekasi polling station, writing a tribute to her late husband and others who succumbed to election fatigue monitoring Indonesia's April 17 election.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

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

For the first time, Indonesians were simultaneously taking part in presidential and legislative polls.

A day ahead of the polls, 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 worked around 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 Mr Abdul Rohim, 40, a security officer assigned to a polling station in Bekasi, West Java. He died after being admitted to an Intensive Care Unit, suffering from exhaustion and heart pain.

As of 8am yesterday, 318 polling station committee officials had died and 2,232 fallen ill, said the General Elections Commission (KPU), which oversaw the polls.

"Many of them had to stay up through two nights and... were under pressure amid efforts to ensure there was no miscounting," said Mr Pramono Ubaid Tantowi, a KPU commissioner, yesterday.

After voting ended on April 17, the ballots were first manually counted at more than 800,000 polling stations. The counting at many stations lasted until past midnight. Officials then oversaw the transport of ballot boxes to collection points where there were 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 had to closely monitor 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 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 vote was held a few months earlier ahead of the presidential one, manual vote-counting had 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 last Wednesday.

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

The seminar was the beginning of a study of this year's election by the independent agency overseeing public services in the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2019, with the headline '318 polling officials dead, 2,232 ill in election aftermath'. Print Edition | Subscribe