When Voting Is Little More Than a Lottery

by Desi Anwar

I know this is the second time I’ve focused on the elections in this column, but the legislative polls a month from now are giving me a lot of misgivings. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t received my voter’s card yet, which, though it would give me a wonderful excuse not to vote, goes some way to confirming the suspicions that this whole election business is a complete mess.

Having said that, I do admire those who actually have the time, energy and the means to run for a seat in the legislature. With a huge number of candidates participating, competition is looking pretty stiff and catching the eye of constituents is no easy task.

Bearing that in mind, those parties that have well-known figures and celebrities running as legislative candidates might just have the right idea. Though often scoffed at for being opportunistic, at the end of the day when faced with a big sheet of paper filled with names of people you’ve never heard of, a famous or familiar name (assuming the voter can read) has a much better chance of getting picked than those who are less well known.

Lets face it, the legislative elections in this country, featuring a ridiculously large number of participating parties and consequently a huge number of candidates, are less about idealism than opportunism, less about what you can do for the country than what you can get out of your position as an honorable member.

The majority of legislative candidates are most likely losers with minimal education, merely running to get a well-paying job.

The majority of those legislative candidates whose solemn and vacuous faces are becoming roadside fixtures across the land are most likely losers with minimal education, merely running to get a well-paying job and taste a bit of power. Or at least so says a friend of mine, who is running for a seat in the regional representatives council herself, and who complained that a number of other candidates have been pestering her for money so they can buy pulsa , airtime vouchers for their cellphones.

Forget about these people’s manifestos (I know I’m being cynical here), but if they can’t even afford to pay for their own basic necessities or don’t even have a decent roof over their heads to begin with, the last thing these would-be representatives of the people will have on their minds is the country’s best interests or their constituents’ welfare.

all, getting elected is a cushy job that brings in around Rp 80 million ($6,640) a month in salary and benefits, not to mention a laundry list of other perks and cash handouts each time they “deliberate” a bill or meet in sessions.

If you only ever finished high school and couldn’t land a proper job, winning a legislative seat becomes the poor man’s golden ticket out of poverty. Hence many are willing to beg, steal and borrow just to be part of the race. The stakes are high, but then so are the rewards.

Of course these candidates are also betting on the fact that the majority of Indonesian voters are similarly uneducated underachievers who are quite willing to be led by the superficialities of it all, and who, because they are invited to participate at rallies, given T-shirts, snacks and other freebies, will be grateful enough to remember them on election day.

Thus I equally admire those who plan to turn up at the polling station to cast their vote. Especially when the voting process is not simply a case of ticking off the name of your chosen candidate’s from your favorite party. Name cards handed out to potential voters by hopeful candidates generally have step-by-step instructions on the back to make sure that the voter can find his or her name in a sea of names that go something like this:

Step 1: Open the ballot.

Step 2: Look for the party, which is on fifth column on the right-hand side and third column up from the bottom.

Step 3: Look for the candidate’s name, which is X.

Step 4: Tick the box beside the name, making sure it’s in the box.

Step 5: Fold the ballot carefully.

Sounds easy enough. That is unless, after all the campaigning, you still enter the polling booth without a clue as to which candidate or which party you wish to vote for. In that case you could pull out that wad of photo name cards in your pocket given to you by the candidates or simply look at the ballot paper and resort to eenie, meenie, miney, mo.

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