Amarudin arrived early at polling station No 7 on Wachid Hasyim Road in Jakarta on April 9 in the hope that his vote would help make his country better.
The 52-year-old food shop owner said Indonesia had been facing a lot of problems, especially the high cost of living and the unfair management of natural resources. So the legislative election was very meaningful for him and other Indonesians to help deal with such problems.
Election officials count ballot papers after legislative voting ends on April 9. PHOTOS: Anucha Charoenpo
“We hope our representatives in parliament will help solve problems and fight for the future of Indonesians,” Mr Amarudin said. “We also hope the legislative elections will help us elect the best president for us to solve our problems while he or she is in office over the next five years.”
Election day on April 9 was a public holiday, so Jakarta’s normally gridlocked roads were mercifully clear as people streamed to the polls between 7am and 1 pm.
Twelve political parties plus three local Aceh-based parties were contending not only for parliamentary seats but for a chance to field a candidate for the country’s presidency. According to the General Elections Commission (KPU), a party or coalition of parties must get 25% of the popular vote or 20% of the seats in the House in order to nominate a representative for the presidential election on July 9.
As it turned out, no party reached the 25% threshold. Preliminary results showed the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle on top with just under 20% of the vote. However, it quickly teamed up with the National Democratic Party to form a coalition holding about 27% of the popular vote. This clears the way for the candidacy of Joko Widodo, the popular governor of Jakarta, who has been leading opinion polls among those seeking to succeed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
While Mr Widodo is said to appeal to millions of voters such as Mr Amarudin, the food shop owner said he chose the Gerindra Party as he wanted to see its leader, Prabowo Subianto, become the next president.
“He has the charisma to become the next president of Indonesia and I think he will be able to lead us to become a more developed country,” he told a Bangkok Post reporter who joined the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) project to cover the Indonesian elections.
Dian Yuliastuti of Tempo magazine says social media are playing an increasingly important role in Indonesian political debate and elections.
At polling station No 4 on Kebon Sirih Barat Road in Jakarta, Lutfi Ayatullan, 25, a newly married quality control officer at a private education firm, said he was voting for the third time in his life.
“I hope the party I voted for today will be able to nominate the presidential ticket in July,” he said. “I want it to help solve the high unemployment rate among Indonesians and to propose free-of-charge schooling for Indonesian children.
“The high cost of living in big cities, especially in Jakarta, is also my concern and the issue should be tackled as quickly as possible by the next government.”
Mr Ayatullan said that he had been keeping a close watch on the qualifications of legislative candidates and parties through social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, following various media outlets and even the political parties themselves.
He also discussed what he had learned with his friends and his family members.
Dian Yuliastuti, a political reporter from Tempo magazine in Jakarta and secretary to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), said the increasing use of the social media was having an influence on decision-making in the legislative election and would surely be felt in the upcoming presidential election as well.
Ms Yuliastuti said political parties and candidates used social media to introduce themselves and their policies, while news media and election monitoring groups launched their own campaigns through social media to support clean elections and persuade more voters to exercise their rights.
“Urban people placed importance on using social media to contact one another about elections, while the mainstream media are dominated by political parties, politicians and business groups,” she said.
“Most people, both in urban and rural areas, still watch television but people in urban areas read more magazines and newspapers. That is the phenomenon of the media we find today during Indonesia’s elections.”
Asked what changes she would like to see from the next president, Ms Yutliasttuti said: “As an Indonesian person, I just want to have a good leader who respects basic human rights of the people, is clean of any corruption and is able to manage an abundance of natural resources in Indonesia equally, and last but not least he must be able to lead Indonesia to compete with any countries in the world.”
Adityas Annas Azhari, editor of the Tribune Jabar daily and a member of the Indonesia Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), agreed social media use by parties and politicians was on the rise. Even until seconds before the vote, many politicians were sending out messages via SMS, BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Line, WhatsApp, and others. “That’s all an invitation to choose,” he said.
For the people of Indonesia, he said the election represented hope for a better life. They hope their representatives and the next president can help build a country that is free of corruption, collusion and nepotism.
“We expect affordable prices, cheap education and better healthcare and we want a leader who can help Indonesian citizens solve these problems,” Mr Azhari said.
Increasingly, voters also expect Indonesia to become a strong country respected by other nations. They also hope that whoever becomes president can exploit Indonesia’s abundant natural resources for the benefit of the Indonesian people themselves.
Aria Indrawati, 50, a blind public relations officer at Mitra Nitra Foundation, said after casting her ballot at polling station No 26 on Lebaburus Jl Madrasah Al-Husna, that her organisation worked for blind people to help them gain access to the electoral process.
“As blind people we expect [authorities] to make it easier to cast our votes. It would be better if they provided us with electronic voting, which I heard about in the US,” she said.
“I heard on TV that blind people could make a call and cast their votes by saying ‘I choose number A or B’ and the machine will record and send the information to the data centre. We wouldn’t need to go anywhere. We don’t need companions. We could do on our own. That is our expectation in terms of the general election.”
Ms Indrawati said she expected the next president to be more sensitive to disabilities. He or she should help speed up building public infrastructure system for people with disabilities in Jakarta and other cities so that they can get around more comfortably.
“When I cross the road, it’s very scary for me. In Melbourne, Australia, when blind people want to cross the road, they just press a button to send voice signal for drivers to stop their cars and then they can cross,” she said.
[Anucha Charoenpo is part of a five-member team organized by SEAPA to cover the 2014 Indonesian parliamentary elections. This article also appeared on the Bangkok Post as “The voters speak“.]