Citizens across Indonesia will head to the polls today, Wednesday, February 15, to vote in gubernatorial and regional elections. Seven provinces will elect new Governor leadership, according to the Jakarta Post, and 76 districts and 18 cities will also hold simultaneous regional elections.
The race attracting the most media attention is that for Governor of Jakarta, an office currently held by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Purnama, commonly known as Ahok, is the defendant in an ongoing blasphemy trial and was the target of massive protests in Jakarta at the end of 2016.
Outside of the nation’s capital, citizens from West Papua to Aceh are also turning out to vote for local leadership. Bangka-Belitung (commonly known as Babel), a province comprising Bangka and Belitung islands off the south-east coast of Sumatra, is among those electing a new governor. All government offices and schools in the province were closed on Wednesday to enable public employees to vote.
At a polling place in the Bukit Merapin neighborhood of Pangkalpinang, Babel’s capital city, roughly 400 people had come to vote by 11 am on a drizzly election day. Poll workers said that there were a total of 13 polling places in Bukit Merapin’s greater municipal district. There are eight city districts in Pangkalpinang overall.
After showing identification at the entrance of the polling place (in this case, a public high school), voters entered and put their paper ballots in a locked ballot box. They then dipped their finger in purple ink to signify that they have already voted. The ink cannot be easily removed in a day and prevents voters from casting a ballot at another polling location. The process was quick – less than two minutes from registration to exit – and most voters who arrived between 10 and 11 am did not have to wait in line to enter the polling place.
Indonesians must be 17 years to vote in elections, and it is customary to keep your vote a secret before and after you cast your ballot. Febri, a 22 year-old Bukit Merapin resident who works in the administrative office of a high school, said that the biggest problem he saw in Bangka-Belitung Province was economic growth.
Bangka-Belitung voters can choose from four tickets representing 11 political parties. Indonesian election by laws mandate that a party can put forth a candidate only if they hold 22 or more seats in Provincial parliament. Parties that do not meet that threshold must form a coalition with other parties to nominate a candidate. In Bangka-Belitung, all but one of the tickets are coalition-backed.
Current Babel governor Rustam Effendi, a former vice-governor who assumed his office after the 2013 death of Gov. Eko Maulana, is up for reelection on a Democratic Struggle Party ticket. His vice-gubernatorial running mate is Pangkalpinang mayor Muhammad Irwansyah.
The gubernatorial elections in Jakarta are especially important because the position is seen as a stepping stone to the presidency. The previous governor, Joko Widodo, known commonly as Jokowi, was the governor of Jakarta from 2012 to 2014, and has been the president since 2014.
Additionally, there are religious and ethnic concerns that further complicate the election.
Incumbent candidate Ahok took over the governorship when Jokowi was elected president. Ahok is Christian and of Chinese descent, and is the first non-Muslim governor to hold the position in 50 years, according to the BBC.
In September 2016, Ahok referenced a verse in the Qur’an that his rivals were using to justify that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims. Some people interpreted this as Ahok speaking against the Qur’an and pressured the president to charge him for blasphemy. Mass protests erupted all over Indonesia with the largest culminating in the November 4 protest with thousands of people demanding Ahok’s resignation.
Blasphemy laws in Indonesia are particularly strict and Ahok could face up to five years in prison if convicted. The trial began in December and the verdict is due in March.
The other two candidates are both Muslim: Agus Harimurtri Yudhoyono, son of the past president, and former education minister Anies Baswedan.
Ahok is a favorite to win, but might not be able to secure enough votes, according to the BBC. Fifty percent of the vote is needed to secure the governor position. Without the 50 percent, a runoff will be held in April between the top two candidates. Official results from Wednesday’s election are not expected to be announced until later this month.
Pangkalpinang coverage by Lizzy Hardison; Jakarta analysis by Katerina Barton
Katerina Barton is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at SMAN 4 in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi and a Co-Editor for Indonesiaful. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico and recently graduated from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas in 2015. Ayam Pangsit is the only thing that has rivaled her obsession with breakfast tacos. You can follow more of her graceful adventures on her blog at katelivingabroad.wordpress.com.