Indonesia Election 2014: 'Punch’ your candidate on ballot paper

Indonesia Election 2014: 'Punch’ your candidate on ballot paper
West Java governor Ahmad Heryawan using a bamboo pole at a PKS rally to show supporters how to select the right party and candidate on a mock-up ballot sheet.

MEDAN, Sumatra - Tick it or poke it? That is the question that could still confound some of the 186 million Indonesians going to the polls in less than two weeks.

In the 2009 general election, officials decided to get voters to put a tick against the candidate or party of their choice. Until then, voters had marked their choice by poking a hole through the name.

The change - to follow global election norms - confused voters and was blamed for the high percentage of spoilt or invalid votes in that election.

For the April 9 elections, it is back to "punch a hole" after MPs voted to revert to the familiar method, and KPU (Elections Commission) officials - and some of the candidates themselves - are going out to "educate" people on the correct way to vote.

"Not many people know how to cast their votes, so I've decided to distribute specimens of ballot papers to my constituents," said first-time election candidate Wong Chun Sen, 46.

A survey by Indonesia Survey Institute last December found that 22 per cent of respondents did not know the proper way of voting.

Most of the spoilt ballots in 2009 were due to incorrect voting, said former KPU commissioner Ramlan Surbakti. At 14.4 per cent, the spoilt ballots formed the third-largest pool, after the Democratic Party's 21 per cent and Golkar's 15 per cent and ahead of PDI-P's 14 per cent.

Elections in a big country like Indonesia are complicated affairs. Each voter is given four ballot forms to make their choice for the national parliament, senate as well as provincial and district-level parliaments. In Jakarta, voters get three forms.

With 12 political parties taking part in this year's contest and more than 100 candidates in some "races", the form is as big as a page of this newspaper.

So at rallies in suburban and rural areas, party officials hold demonstrations on the proper way to mark the ballot form.

"Remember to 'coblos' (punch) and not 'contreng' (strike off). Don't spoil your votes - vote for No.2," said the emcee at the National Awakening Party rally in Banda Aceh as the party's candidate Rhoma Irama demonstrated to the crowd how to vote.

It was a similar scene at a Golkar rally in Medan, where party chairman Aburizal Bakrie used a sharp instrument to poke a hole through Golkar's party symbol on the ballot form.

Medan resident Aleksus Chang, 63, told The Straits Times: "At the last election, I saw people at polling centres asking officials to help them vote because they were unsure and there were so many names and forms."

KPU chief Husni Kamil said his officials have started fanning out to districts to teach voters.

Candidates too have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness - and do some self-promotion at the same time. MetroTV showed a candidate in a Superman costume distributing specimen ballot forms in East Java and telling people how to vote for him.

Doing the same is Mr Wong, a PDI-P candidate, who is vying for a seat in the Medan parliament. On his walkabouts, he gives out specimen forms and shows people another one on which his name is clearly marked. "It's my strategy of teaching them and, at the same time, telling them to vote for me."

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