Prayers, Votes for Peace in Bali

KUTA ~ His hair sprinkled with frangipani petals and face wet with temple holy water, Balinese voter Wayan Wendra said his prayers before casting his ballot in the general election.

The father of five was one of 171 million registered voters in Muslim-majority Indonesia, which held its third general election Thursday in the 11 years since the 1998 fall of president Suharto.

Much of that decade or so has been painful for Bali, which was hit by Islamic suicide bombings in 2002 and 2005 that killed more than 200 people, most of them foreign tourists.

But like much of Indonesia, recent years have seen Bali bounce back to peace and stability, while many of the tourists – though not all – that fled after the bombings are back.

As Balinese at the tourist hub of Kuta made their way to polling booths just blocks away from a memorial to the bombing victims, they said their prayers – and their votes – were aimed at preserving peace and prosperity.

“Things are safe now in Bali. I hope things stay this way so more tourists come,” said the 43-year-old Wendra, who owns an art shop selling to tourists.

Made Suartini, another shop owner in an area of Bali known as much for hedonism as spirituality, said the election was about ensuring Bali stays safe enough for tourists.

“Kuta has been quieter since the bombing. I have one or two customers a day, but that’s it. Hopefully the elections can revive the spirit of the old Kuta,” she said.

The elections, and particularly voting for the 560-member national House of Representatives, will set the stage for presidential polls later in the year.

While many in Bali said they would support incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the liberal ex-general credited by many with overseeing five years of relative stability, the island remains a stronghold for his main rival.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, a former president crushed by Yudhoyono in the last election in 2004, is the daughter of national founder Sukarno and is a quarter Balinese.

Electoral authorities in Bali encouraged locals to treat Thursday’s vote like one of the island’s ubiquitous temple ceremonies, with lines of people walking to polling booths in traditional sarongs and ornate blouses.

While the day was declared a public holiday, hotel managers said there was little disruption to relaxation and revelry on the island.

“We’ve had no problem with elections; even now our hotel is full,” Harris Resort Kuta general manager Virginie Sandstrom said.

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