Papuans in remote areas
prefer `noken' to ballot

The voting process in a number of remote villages in easternmost province of Papua will be somewhat different from that in other areas of Indonesia.

The difference is that ballots will not be placed in ballot boxes, but instead in a noken.

A noken is a bag made of woven tree bark or orchid plant stems generally used by the women in outlying areas of Papua to carry things such as groceries, or garden harvests of vegetables and bananas, and even piglets.

Villages in Puncak Jaya, Paniai and Yahukimo regencies still use noken as a substitute for ballot boxes.

"Not all polling stations in those regencies use noken, only a few hamlets," Hasjim Sangadji from the Electoral Division of the Papua General Elections Commission (KPUD) told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

A rather unique point is that the number of noken at a polling booth is equivalent to the number of ballots received by a voter. It could even be more than the usual four ballots provided to voters. A political party can even provide noken based on the number of its candidates.

The noken is hung around the neck of a person or on tree branches and is marked based on the respective parties and candidates.

"A noken represents a candidate. For example, a voter chooses a candidate from party No.1, so the voter will place the ballot in the noken he or she represents," Hasjim said.

"Voters do not mark or tick the ballot papers, but by placing them in a particular noken, it would be obvious who they have voted for. So a party could provide more than one noken, based on the number of candidates."

Such a procedure, he explained, did not meet principles of confidentiality because everyone present at the polling booth would know who the voters had picked, adding that local wisdom was called for in this situation.

"If voters are required to tick the ballots and place them in ballot boxes, no one would come to cast their votes, so the most important thing is for people to exercise their political rights," Hasjim said.

Hasjim maintained that people in remote areas of Papua were unfamiliar with ballot boxes and marking ballots, such as in previous elections, so it would be easier for them to use noken rather than boxes.

"Besides, people in remote areas are more confident of their choices and more convinced of election results if they vote using noken," he said.

He added the Papua KPUD would publicize the noken version of the election process in early March in districts where residents still use the noken, to prevent cheating.

"Usually, ballot papers are sent to the villages for counting as soon as voting closes. This is when rigging could occur as ballots could be handed over to another person and marked because they had not been ticked and were still clean before being put inside the noken, as poll workers would only mark them later in accordance with voters' choices," he said.

Papua has 2,063,122 eligible voters who will cast their votes in 6,570 polling stations. More than 50 percent of them live in the Pegunungan Tengah mountainous region, where most of them prefer to use noken instead of ballot boxes.

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