Barack Obama’s Edge in Indonesia

By Keith B. Richburg
The Washington Post

The first Democratic ballots on the mega-primary day of February 5 are scheduled to be cast in Indonesia by members of Democrats Abroad Indonesia.

And Barack Obama might be said to hold the hometown advantage.

Obama lived in Indonesia from age 6 to 10, after his mother married Lolo Soetoro, who was an Indonesian student, and young Barack attended Indonesian schools. Obama has often spoken of his time abroad as giving him a unique sensitivity to foreign cultures. But what is unclear is whether his experience will also give him an edge for the votes of Americans now living overseas.

There are some 6 million Americans living abroad, a group larger than the populations of all but 17 US states. This year, Democrats Abroad will be sending 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Eight of those delegate slots are reserved for DNC members, and the rest will be chosen through a series of “global primaries,” leading up to a convention for overseas Democrats, in Vancouver, BC, in April.

The polls in Indonesia will open a minute after midnight on February 5, with results released a couple of hours later. Given the time difference, that means Democrats living in Indonesia will have their votes tallied and released a full 12 hours before polling places open in any of the 22 states holding primaries that day.

Arian Ardie, a businessman who chairs the Indonesian chapter of Democrats Abroad, said in an e-mail that he hopes that with the midnight vote, Indonesia can steal a little of the limelight normally associated with the tiny New Hampshire hamlet of Dixville Notch, which has gained international attention for its tradition of having the state’s first recorded votes in primaries and general elections.

Before the voting starts, Ardie wrote, candidates’ surrogates will be calling in to make their last-minute pitches to voters. The senator from Illinois will be relying on his Indonesian sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, to make his case.

Democrats Abroad Indonesia has been trying to register as many members as possible before the vote, and has found a novel technique — distributing official party condoms with a suggestive slogan. Ardie said the idea was to shed light on the Bush administration’s “arcane family planning and reproductive rights policies.”

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