Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Picking a Face at the Quiet Polls

Exactly one day before Election Day my voter’s slip finally arrived, and thus I could well and truly take part in determining the country’s leaders.

I must admit that up until then my enthusiasm for this whole democratic exercise had been less than lukewarm. But when my driver proudly showed me his purple-stained pinkie and expounded at lengths — with the skills and cogency of a political analyst — on why he chose a particular party, suddenly I too felt fired up to do my bit for the country.

So off I went, barely a half-hour before closing time, expecting to find a long line of eager voters at the neighborhood badminton court waiting for their turn to vote.

Instead the polling station, housed under a makeshift tent, had only a couple of election officials with a big bag full of as yet unopened ballot papers in front of them, while the few plastic chairs to seat waiting voters were curiously empty.

Either I was very late compared to my neighbors or there weren’t that many voters who came to begin with.

Later I was told that out of the 400 or so registered voters in my area, less than 200 came. The rest had obviously decided to spend their long weekend on less democratic pursuits.

I was handed four sets of thick ballot papers bearing different colors and went to the booths, which were merely spaces separated by tin partitions set on a long table.

I’d come with a relative and since nobody else happened to be voting, we could easily hold a conversation and compare notes.

One candidate looked like she had had a nose job, so we decided to pass. Another looked like an aging nun with a creepy smile.

This was important since neither of us had a clear idea of what to do and had paid very little attention to the General Elections Commission’s voting instructions.

Once we sussed out the technicalities of it, which took a few good minutes and some verbal consultations with a skinny official in a green uniform, it was time to make our choices for local, provincial and national representatives.

I checked my mobile for messages sent that morning by friends who advocated such and such persons for such and such reasons.

I scoured the broadsheet-sized district representative ballot paper for some familiar names and found none. My area apparently just missed out on being in Jakarta.

Instead I am a resident of the city of Tangerang in Banten Province and since I didn’t know any of the names on the sheet, I just had to find a method of choosing that was more meaningful than random.

It was a good thing I was not in a hurry.

A voter at the other end of the table loudly claimed that since he didn’t know any of the candidates pictured on the ballot for the Regional Representatives Council, he wasn’t going to fill it in. Nobody paid any attention to him, but when I spread out the ballot I understood exactly what he meant.

Before me were rows of out-of-focus headshots of people completely unfamiliar to me.

My relative was similarly at a loss. But a choice had to be made for the sake of our precious democracy.

As there were only a handful of women out of the dozens of males on the sheet we decided that our choice would be for a woman.

This narrowed it down considerably to five or six candidates.

The question was which one. Since all wore headscarves and were heavily made up it was not as easy as we thought. One looked like she had had a nose job, so we decided to pass on her. Another looked like an aging nun from “ The Sound of Music,” all black with a strip of white covering on her head and a creepy smile.

Yet another had some academic titles behind her name that seemed a bit dodgy.

We hemmed and hawed for a few minutes and both agreed on No.14, the woman with the friendliest face, a relatively normal smile and a recognizable academic title.

We folded the thick ballot sheets and forced them in the slots of their appropriate boxes and dipped our fingers in the purple ink. It ran down my little finger in one long indelible mess.

But I felt satisfied. I had done my duty.

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