Two days after Indonesia's general elections on Wednesday, the hashtag #MartirDemokrasi ("martyrs of democracy" in Indonesian) was the number one trending hashtag on Twitter. As debates on the election's quick counts continued, the hashtag was a reminder of a much darker side of the elections: Polling Station Working Committee (KPPS) workers and police officers across the country were overworked to death.
The story first went viral on social media when a Twitter account @nasibaik posted a screenshot of a news article reporting the death of a KPPS officer. He died on Thursday in a car accident on the way to take his child to school after he'd spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning counting ballots in Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta. Within a couple of days, similar stories began to surface.
In total, last week's election has claimed the lives of 54 KPPS workers and 15 police officers. All of them were proclaimed dead between Wednesday and Sunday.
Fifty-six-year-old Jaenal, another KPPS workers, died just after the election day kicked off in Bogor, West Java. It's believed that he died out of fatigue, after working tirelessly to pick up and deliver ballots and ballot boxes from a storage unit for hours the night before.
"He wasn’t getting enough sleep, so when the election finally started he was over-exhausted and passed out while doing checks at the polling station,” police officer Agung Raka told Kompas.
In Tasikmalaya, West Java, at least two KPPS workers also died from working to a point of extreme exhaustion.
"This election is intense, there are new rules," Zamzam Jamaludin, the head of Tasikmalaya's General Election Committee, told Detik. "Carrying out the presidential and legislative elections at the same time requires extra energy from the committee."
According to reports, many of the KPPS workers only went home after working over 24 consecutive hours at their local polling stations without sufficient breaks. After the last voters have cast in their ballots, each polling station had to count and recount the ballots at least five times. And for all their hard work, the workers received only less than Rp 500,000 ($35 USD) in compensation, according to Tempo.
“I’ve been the head of my local KPPS twice, it’s always been this way, no changes,” Abdul Latif, head of the KPPS in South Sulawesi told Antara.
In some places in the country where road access is limited, KPPS workers had to work extra hard to make sure ballots arrived on time. Even in Java, the island with the most developed infrastructure in the country, some remote polling stations could only be reached via a horse ride. In other places, like Kalimantan, workers had to transport ballot boxes on speedboats, helicopters, planes, and even elephants.
Arief Budiman, the chairman of the General Elections Commission (KPU), confirmed all the news reports, and admitted that so far, there are no clear regulations to ensure safe working conditions and adequate compensation for KPPS workers.
“I really hope that all officers can adjust their work rhythm, look after their health and don’t forget to eat,” he told Sindonews.
Budiman said that KPU had requested for life insurance for the workers last year, but it was denied by the House of Representatives.
On a separate occasion, KPU announced that it will give compensation for the family members of dead KPPS workers, though it didn't specify what the form and amount of the compensation will be.
This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.