Indonesia polls pose huge logistical challenge

As campaigning for Indonesia's April 9 general election gets under way, 775 million ballot papers and 1.12 million bottles of violet ink to mark voters' fingers have made their way to the country's 33 provinces.

They are shipped out early so problems can be fixed amid the huge logistical challenge of organising the once-in-five-years polls in the world's most expansive archipelago of 17,000 islands.

Last week, some 21 boxes containing 21,000 ballot papers were soaked by big waves on their way to remote Mamberamo Raya regency in Papua.

And when Mount Kelud erupted last month, 230 aluminium ballot boxes in a compound in Malang, East Java, collapsed under a 25cm-thick layer of volcanic ash.

Officials plan to use spare ballot boxes for the surrounding regions.

The printing of several ballot papers in central Java also had to be delayed after ash coated the printing machines located outdoors.

With a population of 250 million, Indonesia is no stranger to big numbers.

But this year's elections present new challenges, with some 22 million first-time voters adding to the total of 186 million eligible voters, and a recent series of natural disasters that meant new supplies had to be sent out.

"Indonesia's geography is so vast that many places cannot be reached within 24 hours from Jakarta. There are remote areas in Papua that can be reached only by air and sea," Mr Nur Hidayat Sarbini, former chairman of the Election Supervisory Body, told The Straits Times.

Other remote areas that pose logistical challenges include outlying islands from Aceh to North Sulawesi.

So although all election paraphernalia must arrive at the latest a day before polling day, most get sent out to districts several weeks ahead.

There are 545,791 polling stations nationwide, and election law stipulates that a polling station can have a maximum of only 500 voters. Even then, there are mishaps.

Said Mr Nur Hidayat: "Last time round, there were accidents and other incidents that made some areas hold the elections late. This is normal."

Natural disasters are not the only causes of delays.

Last week, 1,847 ballot papers in an East Kalimantan regency were reported to be either torn or tainted by leaked ink bottles during shipment.

Mailing address mix-ups saw Blora regency receive ballot papers designated for Boyolali regency, both in Central Java.

Some 6,600 candidates from 12 political parties are competing for 560 seats in the national Parliament. But MPs are elected from electoral districts as the system is designed to give smaller parties a chance and ensure no one party dominates.

There are 77 electoral districts nationwide, each sending between three and 10 MPs to Parliament, depending on their population size. But a voter can choose only one candidate.

On polling day, some 4.2 million election officials and volunteers will be deployed to ensure things go smoothly.

Voting starts at 8am and closes at 1pm, with counting starting shortly after polls close on the same day.

A host of survey outfits will conduct quick counts that give an indication of the outcome, but the logistics involved also mean that full and final results will be out almost one month after April 9.

By the numbers

6,600 candidates vying for 560 national Parliament seats

200,000 vying for seats in 33 provincial, and 497 district and city assemblies

186 million eligible voters

775 million ballot papers

545,791 polling stations

4.2 million election officials and volunteers

Voting starts at 8am and closes at 1pm on April 9

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