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In Indonesia: Positive Vibes from Jakarta’s First Direct Gubernatorial Election

August 8, 2007

Once again, Indonesian voters defied commentators by enthusiastically participating in Jakarta’s first-ever direct election for governor. While there are no official results yet, voter turnout amongst the 5.8 million voters appears to be much higher than some were anticipating in the run-up to the election (the Indonesia Survey Institute predicted only a 35% turnout in a recent poll).

Today, the People’s Voter Education Network (JPPR) is projecting actual turnout to be closer to 70%, based on returns from 100 polling stations. If this number turns out to be accurate, it contradicts any pessimism that Jakartans would not vote because they did not believe the candidates, did not understand the differences between the candidates’ policies, or they were simply disinterested.

Working on elections here, I have come to the conclusion that Indonesians have a very strong sense of civic and community duty. Thus, while there may be no great love for any particular candidate, as is evident in this election, Jakartans would never use it as an excuse not to vote. Besides, Election Day is a public holiday, and, with a maximum of 600 voters per polling station, no one lives more than a few hundred meters from their polling station. This contributes to a sense of community pressure to do the “right thing” and use your vote.

While observing the polls today, it was surprising to frequently hear from voters that, despite not liking the candidates, this was an opportunity to have a “native son” as governor. A native son, in the case of Jakarta, refers to someone from the Betawi group, the original inhabitants of Jakarta (and who now constitute a little over 30% of the population). When I asked participating voters whether they ranked “being honest” over “being Betawai” as more important criteria for a future governor, “being Betawi” ranked higher. With the first count results in, it looks likely that Jakarta may now have a Betawi, Fauzi Bowo, as governor. Whoever it is, the new governor will need to begin to tackle some of the urgent problems facing Jakarta, such as urban poverty, poor public services, inadequate infrastructure, constant flooding, congestion, disease and pollution. .

Today’s election is a significant improvement over the previous gubernatorial election in 2002, when only members of the local legislature could vote for the governor, and no opportunity existed to challenge the governor to take into account the needs of the people. Let’s hope that this tradition of mutual indifference between the governor and Jakarta’s citizens is now over.

Jeremy Gross is the Elections Program Manager for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia.

View all posts by Jeremy Gross

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