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Election observation in Indonesia

April 30th, 2019

Simon Burns MPFormer Conservative MP, Rt Hon Sir Simon Burns, reports back on his time in Indonesia observing the world’s third largest democracy in action. 

Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world with an electorate of about 193 million voters. The election on 17 April was unique because for the first time the country’s presidential, parliamentary and regional elections all took place on the same day.

This meant that there were 5 different elections running concurrently (apart from Jakarta which had 4 elections). To appreciate the scale of the elections one must bear in mind that there were 245,000 candidates for approximately 22,000 places with the election spread over an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, spanning three time zones.

As part of the election monitoring process I spent the day before touring polling stations as they were being set up for use. The logistics of the election were complicated as many of the voting areas were remote and villages had to be accessed by small boats, on foot or even by elephant.

Seeing people voting was a completely different experience. People came in in a steady stream, identified themselves, patiently waited until they were given their 4 ballot papers (as I was in Jakarta) and proceeded to vote before then casting their ballot papers in the relevant ballot boxes. The atmosphere was relaxed and almost clinically calm. People then dipped one of their fingers in indelible ink to show they had voted and to avoid voter fraud and frequently took selfies as a record of their participation in the election.

(Photo: presidential election ballot papers for the April vote) 

To differentiate between the separate election, the ballot papers and ballot boxes were colour coordinated though it was obvious from observing the election that some voters, especially elderly voters, were confused and put the wrong ballots into the wrong ballot boxes. Although this did not invalidate the votes it did ensure that the counting of votes took longer and it would probably have been more efficient to have printed the ballot papers on different coloured paper rather than simply have a colour bar on the top of the ballot papers.

In order to ensure the smooth running of the election there were over six million election workers from the local community spread over about 810,000 polling stations, which averaged out at between 200 and 300 voters per polling station. The election itself was peaceful and orderly with the polling staff competent and efficient in carrying out their duties. However, I was deeply saddened to hear the recent reports of almost 300 deaths of election workers as a result of fatigue-related illnesses. 

The ballots were counted in a transparent and efficient manner, with each ballot paper being held up and shown to the observers before being recorded on sheets of paper that were prominently displayed. The completed results were forwarded to the General Election Commission. The complicated process of tabulating the votes in order to ascertain which candidates are victorious is underway, which will mean that the final results, apart from the Presidential Election, will be known in mid-May.

Observers from the different political parties and members of the public were present to watch the proceedings and the process moved forward effectively without voters having to wait a disproportionate amount to time to cast their votes.

Considering that Indonesia has only been a democracy for the last 21 years, the whole process was transparent and fair, with no tension or animosity at the polling stations. 

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