Indonesians vote in nationwide regional polls

Polling station officials dressed for first simultaneous local polls taking place in Indonesia, world’s most populous Muslim country

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Tri Rismaharini, mayoral candidate and current mayor of Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya, casts her ballot at a polling station in Surabaya, East Java on December 9, 2015 (Reuters)

Tens of millions of Indonesians cast their vote on Wednesday in the diverse archipelago’s first countrywide regional elections.

Polling station officials in Semarang, a port city in Central Java, dressed in an array of costumes including rafting gear, bridal wear and as “wayang,” or traditional leather shadow puppets, as locals cast their ballots from 7 am to 1 pm.

Officers in Kendal regency to the west even handed out door prizes in the form of live chickens and kitchen utensils to the first 160 voters, while a bus route in nearby Surakarta was redirected to the local station.

More than 100 million people in the world’s most populous Muslim country were eligible to vote in 32 of its 34 provinces for more than 260 provincial governors, district chiefs and mayors posts.

Wulan Maria, a housewife in Yogyakarta, expressed to Anadolu Agency her disappointment that men made up the vast majority of the more than 820 candidates running in the elections.

"I hope whoever wins can pay more attention to the voice and interests of women," said Maria, mother of a 3-year-old daughter.

Only 123 women, or 7.32 percent of candidates, are contesting the polls, according to data from the Association for Elections and Democracy.

Meanwhile, the commissioner of the General Election Commission told Anadolu Agency that the simultaneous election process across Indonesia’s islands was running smoothly.

"Until now, there has been no report related to extraordinary events across all regions in Indonesia,” Arief Budiman said. “This means that all the stages [of the elections] are running as they should."

Polling station officials wearing cowboy costumes prepare ballots at a polling station in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia on December 9, 2015 (Reuters)

Syahiddin, a member of the Ahmadiyah minority Muslim group who like many Indonesians uses only one name, expressed his hope that the elections would bring in leaders who care about the fate of the community, who have been accused of heresy by some for their beliefs deviating from mainstream Islamic teachings.

"We have never touched government assistance programs, such as those for rice, stoves and cash," quoted him as saying.

He said Wednesday’s elections were the first in which he and dozens of other Ahmadis living in a shelter in Mataram city, West Nusa Tenggara province, could vote for a leader since being driven from their homes in 2006.

"Thanks God, [we] have been equated with other Indonesian citizens [to] obtain identity cards and have the right to vote," he added.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla declared that the elections were conducted simultaneously to be “more efficient than separate local elections because it reduces costs, and minimizes conflict," reported.

The official results of the polls are expected to be announced in coming days.

Wednesday’s regional elections were the first involving so many local posts at once.

Direct elections for local leaders were introduced after the military dictatorship of former president Suharto ended 17 years ago.