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Everything you need to know about the 'incredible' logistics of Indonesia's presidential election

Everything you need to know about the 'incredible' logistics of Indonesia's presidential election


By land, sea, air and even being dragged by a cow, these are just some of the ways in which ballots and ballot boxes will reach polling stations in the astonishing one-day election in Indonesia.

Nearly 205 million people are registered to vote Wednesday, as the world's third-largest democracy chooses a new president.

More than 800,000 polling stations will serve these voters, spread across this archipelago of some 17,000 islands.

This is a logistical challenge, made even more difficult by unpredictable events in the run-up to Election Day.

“Some of the challenging aspects of managing election logistics include limited time, extreme weather, geographic conditions and even security disruptions,” said Yulianto Sudrajat, head of the planning and logistics division at the Indonesian General Election Commission.

Election officials in Central Java have already postponed voting in 10 villages due to flooding, with fresh warnings of potential disruptions in the island's west on polling day.

Three men seated at a press conference table.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, speaks during a news conference at the palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 26, 2019. Widodo had announced the move of the country's capital from overcrowded, sinking Jakarta and polluted towards the province of East Kalimantan. (Achmad Ibrahim/Associated Press)

Open presidential race

Voters decide on the replacement of outgoing President Joko Widodowith Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto as the current favorite.

Subianto heads the populist Gerindra party. He has pledged to continue many of the outgoing president's major policies and is running alongside Widodo's son Gibran.

The candidate of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party is former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo. He campaigned as a man of the people, but Widodo decided not to support him.

The third candidate is Anies Baswedan, who is running as an independent. Unlike Subianto and Pranowo, Baswedan has pledged to move away from Widodo's signature policies, including the decision to move the country's capital away from Jakarta.

Composite image of three men
This composite photo shows Indonesian presidential candidates, from left, Anies Baswedan, Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo. (The Associated Press)

Presidents are elected for a five-year term but can only govern for a maximum of two terms.

Indonesians will also elect a new vice president as well as parliamentary and local representatives.

Security officials will likely be on alert Wednesday, following unrest following the last 2019 presidential election.

The demonstrators took to the streets and clash with police after official results showed Widodo had secured a second term as president. Eight people were killed in the violence in the Indonesian capital.

A man in a police uniform pushes a motorcycle, on which a man and a box are seated, up a hill.
A police officer helps a poll worker drive his motorcycle up a hill as he distributes ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia to polling stations in remote villages ahead of Wednesday's elections in Maros, Indonesia, on Tuesday. (Masyudi S. Firmansyah/Associated Press)

“Incredible” logistics

The election requires the production of a staggering 1.2 billion ballots before Election Day.

“There are also different types of election logistics that are only produced during each election, so there is often a shortage of raw materials and availability of printing presses capable of producing on such a scale,” said Sudrajat.

Polls will be open for six hours on Election Day, and ballots will be cast from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time. Indonesia stretches approximately 5,100 kilometers from east to west, with the country operating in three different time zones.

“The logistical effort required to organize these elections is incredible,” said Ben Bland, director of the Asia-Pacific program at Chatham House in London.

“This speaks to the importance of democracy to the Indonesian people.”

Traditional voting methods

Once at the polling station, voters must select their preferred candidate by punching a hole in the ballot paper with a nail.

“This is the way it's been done for some time and officials are concerned that if they change the system it could cause confusion among voters,” Bland said.

“This means that when poll workers hold up ballots during public counting, witnesses can clearly see which candidate was chosen.”

A man carries poxes as he walks along a stream.
People carry ballot boxes that will be distributed to polling stations on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's elections, in the village of Kanekes, Indonesia. (Rangga Firmansyah/Associated Press)

Once voting is complete, voters dip their finger in a pot of indelible ink. These traditional methods are used to ensure the legitimacy of the voting process.

“The goal is to end voter fraud, ensuring that people can only vote once. Making a hole in the ballot is also a difficult thing to fake, you can't cross it out, for example,” said Sharyn Davies, director of Herb Feith. Indonesia Center at Monash University, Melbourne.

Indonesia's diversity is also reflected in the subtle voting shifts taking place in the country's easternmost province, Papua.

In some of the more remote tribal communities, the “noken system” is used for voting. This is a form of community voting, in which the head of a village represents the community at a polling station.

Some have called for this system to be scrapped, given concerns about transparency and fairness.

Relatively young democracy

Wednesday's vote is only the fifth time Indonesia has directly elected a president, following democratic reforms in 1998 following the fall of former President Suharto.

This relatively young democracy also has a young electorate.

More than half of registered voters are under 40, and candidates are turning to popular social media sites like TikTok to try to target this young demographic.

Fatyah Adzikra, 34, works for a start-up in Jakarta and announced that she would vote in the Indonesian capital on Wednesday.

“I am very excited to vote. The election is an opportunity to make your voice heard as a citizen and I believe that only one vote counts,” Fatyah said.

“Honestly, I'm never 100 percent sure about the fairness of elections, but right now many citizens are becoming more politically aware and following these elections closely,” she added.

Two people completely surrounded by boxes.
Workers prepare ballot boxes that will be distributed to polling stations on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's elections in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press)

Health concerns of election workers

More than five million election officials will be tasked with ensuring voting is fair on Election Day, although those workers will also need to monitor their own health.

Indonesian media reported that 894 poll workers died during the election. 2019 votelargely because of the heavy workload and long hours required to ensure all ballots were counted.

To avoid a repeat of this tragedy, the country's electoral body has implemented stricter controls on workers' health.

“We have strengthened the selection process of ad hoc election officials, so that there are no deaths of election officials in the line of duty,” Sudrajat said.

Quick vote, long count

Indonesia falls behind the United States and India in terms of the size of its democracy. As all three countries hold elections this year, they are helping to make 2024 the the biggest election year in history.

But Southeast Asia's largest country is the only one to opt for a one-day vote. Snap elections are proposed in the United States, while in India elections are spread over several weeks.

Protesters hold up signs
A protester holds up a poster with a defaced image of Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally demanding a fair presidential election in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Monday. (Slamet Riyadi/Associated Press)

“Every democracy runs its elections in different ways,” Bland said.

“Holding the vote in a single day brings greater clarity to the process and builds public confidence in the results, while strengthening the sense of national unity.”

Official results from Indonesia's elections could take up to 35 days to be announced, with a long and arduous counting process.

Unofficial “quick count” results are likely to be released Wednesday, with the data based on sampling from private polling firms that will reach out to voters across the country.

To win, a presidential candidate needs more than 50 percent of the total vote. If no one in this three-way race reaches that number, then the entire process will have to be repeated in the presidential runoff election in June.




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