Indonesia election 2019
Illustration by Ilyas Rivani

We Answer the Most Googled Questions About the Indonesian Election

"What counts as a 'fair' election?"
April 15, 2019, 11:01am

This year's Indonesian presidential candidates may be the same two people five years ago, but it doesn't make the election season less confusing and nerve-racking for voters.

On Wednesday, Indonesia's registered 192.8 million voters are expected to not only choose between the two presidential candidates, but also between 250,000 candidates for 20,538 legislative seats at five levels of government in a single day. Surely, most of us have questions.


Ahead of the elections, VICE decided to see some of the frequently-asked questions people have typed on Google. Are popular Google searches really representative of what people think? Experts are not so sure. In 2016, The Guardian wrote about how the Google is prone to manipulation. So the best thing to do is probably to take everything you see on the Internet with a grain of salt. But these, dear people of the digital age, are some of the election-related things that have kept you up at night:

Who are first-time and Millennial voters?

We know it's you, Baby Boomers (and Generation Xers). In Indonesia, "Millennials" is what people above 40 say when they refer to young people of college age and below. In this election season, the word "Millennial" has been thrown left and right in every single campaign and government-sponsored event. First-time voters and millennial voters are clearly not the same. I mean, for Millennials born in the 90s like me, this is our third time voting. Even though politicians' use the word is cringy and outright incorrect, their focus on this group is understandable. In the 2019 election, Millennials and Gen Z represent 40 percent of all voters, with around five million of them voting for the first time. With so much power these two groups of people hold, the least politicians can do is to refer to us accurately. Because if they're anything like me, we're tired of hearing the word “Millennial” being randomly thrown around in every possible context.

Why are elections always held on a Wednesday?

Indonesians love to skip work on days that fall between holidays so much that it even became a national problem. The National Election Commission (KPU) knows this all too well. Imagine if the election was held on a Thursday. Millions of voters will probably take Friday off so they'll get a four-day weekend. Some of them may go on vacation and not vote at all.

Wasisto Raharjo Jati, a political researcher from the Indonesian Science Institute (LIPI), told local media that this Wednesday rule was made to maximise voter participation.


“We always choose Wednesday because the public won't have an excuse not to vote because it’s in the middle of the week. We assume that a day off in the middle of the week would push people to participate,” Wasisto said.

How do you handle voter abstention?

"Golput," the Indonesian term for when people voluntarily forgo their right to vote, has historically been done as a form of protest and expression of disappointment towards the government. The term first appeared during the 1971 elections, which were the first held during the New Order.

Back then, it was widely known that the elections were fixed in Party of Functional Groups’ (Partai Golkar) favor. So a number of activists and students rallied people to abstain from voting, which was seen as a radical act at the time. Abstinence is not the same as not showing up to the polls at all—there’s a political motive behind it.

Over the years, abstainers have always been perceived negatively. New Order officials called them "apathetic," and in 2019, the abstainers face just as much criticism, with many decrying them as stupid, parasitic, and freaks.

Going back to the question—there's nothing anyone should do to stop people from abstaining. Abstainres have been usually people from the the educated middle class. This act won’t be necessary if the middle class believed that casting a vote can make a change, whether it’s because the candidates they choose have a clear vision, or if the political parties keep their promises to make Indonesia a better place.

When is the 2019 election?

Come on people. It's April 17. I wonder, do people Google this question because they’re ready to vote, or are they planning to take a day off the next day?

Why do the elections matter?

If you think that elections are the barometer of democracy, I don't blame you. Elections should exist for people to get involved in their country's future. That’s exactly why anti-New Order activists fought hard so we can have the elections that we do today.

Tirto once wrote about the term “fiesta of democracy," or what elections were referred to in the New Order. Gen. Suharto, who ended up ruling the country for 32 years, mentioned the term during a speech that was held a month before Indonesia's third "election." He claimed the implementation of “fiesta of democracy” plays a role in strengthening democracy. Of course, democracy didn’t exist back then.


Anthropologist Schulte Nordholt considered Indonesian elections during the New Order era as “national rituals that were deliberately designed to reproduce the regime without opposing its power.”

Let’s reflect today. Perhaps elections are more important for politically-aware people who understand that we vote to maintain a democratic government system. After all, a country has a healthy democracy if citizens always supervise the people in power.

But maybe you don’t care about it at all and only vote for a candidate that you really like superficially. Maybe you can't afford to care. Maybe we need to ask, who are the elections important for?

What counts as a "fair" election?

The average Indonesian may think that an election is fair when it is supervised by multiple people.

Carter Center, an organization that observes elections, stated that anyone who observe an election “plays a key role in shaping perceptions about the quality and legitimacy of electoral processes.” Meanwhile, USAID once wrote, “A country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair.”

Are the Indonesian elections fair? Only we can answer this, someday.

This article was originally published on VICE Indonesia.