My first Indonesian Presidential Election

April 17 2019 — For the first time, I watched an Indonesian president get elected. This is my view of voting in Indonesia as an American bule (caucasian American).

Voting is done with paper ballots dropped into cardboard boxes. The procedure is to sign-in and wait for your name to be called. After you vote, you dip one of your fingertips into purple indelible ink. The dye can last days—long enough to make sure you don’t vote twice. By the way, I did not vote.

The neighborhood leaders are called RT. It is their job to know everyone in the neighborhood and everything that goes on. Our neighborhood had about two hundred voters who voted at RTs house. He reports to a leader (RW) who manages several RTs. They also get a number which is used in your address. In a typical address, the city is succeeded by the Township, village, RT number, and RW number.

Indonesia is a democracy. And like America, the national voting is done in one day. Unlike America, there is no early voting and the total count will not be known for weeks. Indonesia has the largest one-day voting turnout in the world. In 2014, 122 million people voted in Indonesia. In the 2016 U.S. election, 126 million people voted, but 30 million of those votes were from early voting.

Indonesia is a huge archipelago of 17,000 islands, of which 8,000 have permanent inhabitants. Half of the people here are 30 years old or younger and a third still don’t have electricity. It’s not hard to see why it takes weeks to get all the votes counted.

Elections in Indonesia are the biggest and most complex in the world. In the last big election, 4 million station officials at 500,000 polling stations managed 775 million ballot papers in 2,450 different designs to get 19,700 candidates elected for one presidency and 532 legislatures at national and sub-national level.

Presidential candidates Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto shake hands after a televised debate

The campaigners and candidates in this 2019 election were generally civil with each other. I didn’t see the bitterness that plagues American politics. You can wear the hat or colors of your favorite candidate and have a meaningful debate without the fear of getting beat up or slandered by the press. Mass media here does not display the level of bias like in America.

Several parties sponsor several thousands of elected officials. A party can not field candidates unless they have a certain amount of support in the House of Representatives (Parliament). They can also form coalitions to further causes they have in common.

I learned a lot about the political system in my new home, but more importantly, It was a great day to meet and greet neighbors. We had a great time socializing and nobody talked politics. 🔸

EDIT: Joko Widodo has won a second term as president of Indonesia.

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