Casting My Ballot

By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ In the run-up to the presidential elections, which for some unknown reason I am allowed to vote in, I felt I should read up on the candidates. When I came here four years ago I knew hardly anything about the background of the country, but ever since deciding to stay, I’ve read everything I can about it and I’ve found what I’ve read to be both intriguing and shocking.

I’m sure my husband Ongky is sick and tired of me reading up on things and asking him about them, but I have the feeling there are many things in Indonesia’s past that are either unspoken about or purposefully left out of school curriculums and are definitely worth reading about.

Knowing about Indonesia’s history hasn’t only turned me off certain candidates, but also made me appreciate what people have been through here and why the democratic process of campaigning and electing their president is something they are so proud of. Where else in the world do people get dressed in their temple best to cast their votes? Can you imagine lines of voters in their suits and ties in the US or the UK?

In Silakarang, elections are held in the elementary school, which is usually packed full of people, generally men, either helping or just hanging out, and can take up whole days depending on the size of the ballot form. The recent legislative election ballots were fold-out sheets large enough to sleep under and more confusing than a road map of Denpasar, resulting in a long day for all involved.

The first time I voted here I was basically pointed to the candidate I “should” choose and did just that because I was clueless. I was applauded for my “choice” as I left the voting booth. For my second voting experience, for Bali’s governor last year, I took an American friend who was visiting at the time with me to show her voting Bali-style, but I had done my research and I made a choice without being swayed by the “helpful” volunteers.

The school starts filling up early and after casting their votes, most people find somewhere to sit and chat and quiz their friends about who they voted for as they come out of the booth. It is a very social, jovial atmosphere and I’ve found that most people will openly share with the crowds who they voted for.

Obviously in Indonesia, being relatively new to the democratic process, there is controversy surrounding the elections, but people in the village seem pretty unfazed by it all. Everyone has heard rumours of corrupt campaigning practices but as far as I know, no one in the village has been offered any incentives to vote one way or another.

My family has been watching the presidential debates and some have followed the campaign marches, but there has been very little heated rhetoric compared to similar elections in the US or UK.

Actually it’s been a bit on the tame side here in Silakarang. I expected people, especially young people, to be talking about the candidates and debating their suitability, but I’ve heard nothing. I’m not sure if this means people are just keeping their opinions to themselves or they don’t really have an opinion.

It makes me wonder how much information people here really receive about their presidential candidates. Without reading I would know virtually nothing about the background and political aims of the candidates as TV news, campaign commercials and the debates have been seriously lacking in meat. SBY’s Indomie commercial may be catchy but it tells voters nothing about the candidate.

Perhaps as the majority of the candidates have been on the scene for many years, I just haven’t been here long enough to know about them. Thank God for an election-eve show on TV: if I hadn’t already made my decision, I may have been swayed by vice presidential candidate Wiranto’s singing voice.

Anyway, after a week of cramming about the candidates (and their dubious pasts), I feel I can cast my vote with confidence, even though I’m not sure what right I have to vote in a country I’m not yet a citizen of.

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