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The World's Largest Single Day Election Is Happening Today

With 186 million voters, 235,000 candidates, three time zones, across over 17,000 islands, it's a pretty big operation in Indonesia.

by Cal Rednib
Apr 9 2014, 4:25pm

Photo by Reuters

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.

Indonesia's legislative election today is the largest single day election in the world.

With 186 million voters (over 22 million are voting for the first time), 4.5 million election observers, three different time zones across an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, it's a pretty big operation.

And that’s before you get to the candidates, of which there are over 235,000 gunning for 19,000 positions within local government, provincial government, the Regional Representative Council (DPD) and the House of Representatives (DPR).

Indonesia is a representative democratic republic with a presidential system. Like in the US, this election won't determine who the president is. That will be decided in July, and its only parties that get at least 20 percent of the vote today that can nominate a candidate.

The parties are trying to grab as many votes as possible which equate to seats in the DPR, but also to reach that 20 percent threshold.

However, for those parties who don’t quite get there, the fun isn’t over. Afterwards, they’re allowed to form coalitions with other parties in order to combine their votes to make up the numbers.

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Cue lots of political jockeying, horseplay (more about that later) and probably a few dodgy deals along the way.

Indonesia's political parties get a tiny amount of state funding, so have to generate their own cash through membership fees (bugger all) and selling promises to opportunistic private sector players (much more profitable).

Party campaigning has been last minute but what it lacked it preparation, it made up for in theatrics. There have been the tried and tested methods - throwing a big party and giving away free shit. This was a particularly useful strategy for President Suharto when he was trying to raise popularity for his own party, Golkar — he managed to win every election between 1966 and 1998.

The parties include dancing girls in short skirts shaking it on stage to “dangdut” (Indonesian pop music) and supporters dressed or body-painted as party symbols or mascots.

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This ranges from a red-eyed bull for the PDI-P, the party of presidential favorite Jokowi, to a mythical bird called a “Garuda” for Gerindra, the party of the second most popular presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto.

Then there are actual animals – Prabowo rode into his rally on a horse, resplendent in white riding gear, scanning the crowd to check out who had the best costume.

Paying people to vote for you is another popular (not to mention more straight forward) tactic often used by parties which may hand out lunch boxes or presents which contain cash. A 2013 poll taken by Jakarta-based pollster Indikator revealed that 41.5 percent of 15,600 people interviewed had no problem accepting cash or a gift from would-be lawmakers campaigning for election.

It seems parties aren’t afraid to resort to good old-fashioned smear campaigns. Targets so far include popular candidate and current Mayor of Jakarta, Jokowi, citing him as being anti-nationalistic due to his history of installing minorities in positions of authority, such as the Catholic Vice Mayor in his hometown, Solo, and then a Chinese-Indonesian in the same position for Jakarta.

Golkar party presidential candidate and business tycoon, Aburizal Bakrie, was also hit with the scandal stick as a suspicious home video emerged of him with two actress sisters (and a grinning stuffed teddy bear) on his private jet as he took them on an “educational” trip to Maldives to learn about tourism.

With such a circus going in the background, a lot of Indonesians understandably find it pretty hard to keep track of who is a decent candidate and who is crap.

“With so many candidates and parties, it makes it very difficult for voters to reconcile good and bad performance with one party,” said Tobias Basuka, a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, “which greatly affects the likelihood of a rational vote.”

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The current members of the House of Representatives, 91 percent of whom are seeking re-election today, haven't exactly had stellar terms.

Of a target of 70 pieces of legislation last year, they've passed just 16. Since 2003 around 50 of them have been jailed for corruption. It's widely acknowledged that some of the parties have a tendency to value popularity over aptitude.

So while it doesn’t look like Indonesia’s legislative is going to be any less chaotic or the candidates any better qualified than usual, Indonesians can hope that as political pluralism increases, they will be kept more informed.

For the upcoming presidential elections in July, which will have only 5 candidates running, it should be a simpler affair, if only in terms of choosing a candidate people can remember the name of. And even if isn’t, there is always going to be a party and some free shit on offer.