Festival Demokrasi

As printed in Readers Forum, The Jakarta Post, July 10 (sans un-usual editing):

I left the taxi with a beaming smile. The driver’s parting salutation, after our spirited conversation and my Sundanese thank you of “Hatur nuhun Pak”, was “Ayo Jokowi!” It was all I needed to launch into the day feeling completely confident. I met my companion just before 8 and we walked with our usual swift stride towards the polling station (TPS) where he would vote, with just a little extra pep in our steps. It was still early and there was no one there except the officials. The scene was extremely different to polling stations in my home country, Australia, and I relished every part: the officials’ uniform of black shirt and batik blangkon (Javanese male headware), the scrawled ‘Masuk’ (enter) sign hanging from a pot plant, the big silver boxes, the bright smile of a female saksi (witness) when she noticed me. I was desperate to take photos of my companion as he voted then dipped his pinky in ink, but I wanted to remain respectful and regrettably I hesitated. It was a beautiful moment for me, having followed the lead-up to the election for almost a year and having lived in Bandung since January. As we strode away in search of coffee I stopped and clasped his hands. “Thank you. That was very special, ” I said earnestly, my eyes pricking with tears. As a foreigner who has fallen in love with Indonesia, the opportunity to experience the world’s third largest democracy elect a president who heralds change was unforgettable.

For the next five hours we wandered the beautiful tree-lined streets of Bandung in search of TPS. At each one we found a quiet, peaceful scene of children playing and adults queuing, though due to the vast numbers of stations the lines were never long – I told my companion about queuing for two hours in the searing sun for an Australian Capital Territory election. Because of Ramadan the atmosphere at each TPS and on the streets was naturally subdued. “Puasa (fasting) makes it a very different game!” remarked my companion. I vowed to be in Indonesia for this day in five years when the election would be held in April alongside the legislative elections. Just after 1pm we joined a crowd of about 50 adults and children gathered at a Subdistrict Polling Committee (PPS). We were just in time for the count. I had no idea the votes were counted publicly and in such entertaining fashion! The big silver box was emptied and displayed to the crowd to ensure no votes remained, and then the fun began.

A young man in peci cap declared each vote into the microphone – “Nomor satu SAH! Nomor dua SAH!” (Number one valid! Number two valid!) – in a dramatic baritone causing the sound to distort and everyone to wince. As I winced simultaneously with a female official we shared a glowing grin. Though the crowd was not united in preference it was in excitement and elation to be participating in this extraordinary event. It was this politics-transcending shared sentiment that moved me most and made me fall even deeper in love with Indonesia. As a foreigner from a country where voting is compulsory and therefore a ‘chore’ for many, I felt truly blessed to be part of this historic Festival Demokrasi. Just as I did to hold my souvenir copy of The Jakarta Post’s July 10 edition, with its beautiful cover image and stirring headline: A PEOPLE’S VICTORY.

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