Election Watch

Elections produce fake
heroes and sometimes real
zeroes too

Elections can be compared to battles. In battles, we always have heroes or zeroes, apart from the winners and losers. In the recent election in North Korea, the supreme leader Kim Jong-un emerged as a hero, to his cronies at least, by getting 100 percent of the vote in his district to win a seat in the supreme people’s assembly.

How could he do that? First, the voter turnout was 100 percent and there was no one else on the ballot except for the 31-year-old dictator Kim. Of course, there was an option to say “no” but nobody wanted to risk their lives to vote for “no”.

Former US president Abraham Lincoln may have said: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet”, but Kim proved that he is much stronger than both ballot and bullet. Surprisingly, both ballot and bullet are derived from the word ball.

In ancient Greece, people used to drop a white ball if they favored a candidate and a black one if they disliked that particular candidate.

Apparently, Kim learned from former president Soeharto, who designed a master plan under which his party Golkar (the present-day Golkar Party is different under democracy) always won every election during his presidency with over 70 percent of the vote. All government employees, including the General Elections Commission (KPU) staff, were members of Golkar and worked for the victory of the party.

During the Soeharto era, there was no room for polling agencies to predict who would win the elections. Long before the election, Golkar used to announce the “unofficial” result, by saying that it wanted to win the election by 72 percent of the vote for example. Everybody, from minister to village head, worked to see that Golkar achieved that target in that particular election.

An over-anxious local official of the then province of East Timor (now Timor Leste), in an effort to please his bosses in Jakarta once reported by phone to Jakarta that Golkar had won the election in his area by getting more than 100 percent of the vote. The poor official didn’t realize his mistake until Jakarta scolded him that no party could ever get more than 100 percent of the vote in an election. As a matter of fact, Golkar won 99.45 percent of the vote in 1982 and 85 percent of the vote in 1997 in East Timor.

It seems that Kim took all the precautions not to commit the mistake of the East Timor official by not exceeding 100 percent.

Let’s move from fake heroes to real zeroes. Believe it or not 88 candidates in Modakurichi, in India’s Tamilnadu province, didn’t receive a single vote in the 1996 assembly elections. If they wouldn’t vote for themselves, who else would vote for them?

In the history of elections, the one in Modakurichi was unique in many ways. Exactly, 1,033 candidates, mostly independent candidates, contested one seat in the provincial assembly in the 1996 election. By comparison, in the First Jakarta Electoral district, a voter has to choose one candidate from a list of 72 candidates on April 9. There are 12 political parties competing for six legislative seats from this district.

It was a major headache for election officials in Modakurichi. It was not easy to allocate symbols for each candidate. They finally managed to allocate election symbols, ranging from a spoon to a bicycle and a fan to a bucket to all 1,033 candidates. It was a huge ballot paper, like a mattress. For voters also it was a Herculean task choosing one candidate from a list of more than 1,000.

Then there was another problem: Finding a ballot box. After trying several options, the polling officials finally arranged a sealed room with a window as a ballot box. Voters threw their ballot papers through the window at every polling station. The electoral seat had 194,579 voters. More than 60 percent or 118, 266 voters took part in the election.

The results were more surprising. Subblakshmi Jegadeesan, a candidate from the local party DMK, won the election by getting 64,436 votes. Exactly 88 candidates didn’t receive a single vote and 158 candidates received only one vote, presumably their own.

India, the world’s largest democracy with 814 million voters and 930,000 polling stations, has many seen strange things as far as elections are concerned. For example, there is one polling booth in Banej village, Gujarat, with only one voter. Because of the principle that nobody is left out of an election, the election commission arranges a polling booth for this single voter, who is a temple priest living in the middle of a jungle. There is another polling booth in Arunachal Pradesh province with three voters.

Like India, Indonesia also specializes in organizing gigantic elections. It is the third biggest democracy in the world – after India and the US – with 186 million voters and 545,647 polling stations. Organizing elections in Indonesia is not any easy task. It involves lots of money, energy and millions of people to conduct free and fair elections.

There are some similarities and differences between India and Indonesia in conducting elections and counting votes. Indonesia is more efficient at conducting national, regional, regency and DPD elections all on one day despite the many logistical and other problems. But in India it takes more than one month ( this year from April 7 to May 12) to conduct parliamentary elections alone.

In vote counting, Indonesia is much slower than India because the recapitulation of votes will be done at four levels, at the polling station, district, province and national level. Indonesia will announce election results almost one month after the election while in India the election will be announced two to three hours after the counting begins thanks to 1.8 million electronic voting machines. Officially, India will announce its election results on May 16.

We have the General Elections Commission (KPU), which is responsible for conducting the elections, and there is another body, the Election Supervisory Committee (Bawaslu), to supervise the work of the KPU. For the 2014 elections, we have a new body the Election Organizers Ethics Council (DKPP) to supervise both the KPU and Bawaslu. But who will monitor the work of the DKPP?

Elections are part and parcel of democracy. People choose their representatives through elections. On the need for elections perhaps the great Portuguese writer Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz put it best; “Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason”.

Despite all the fine words, fiery speeches and promises of free education, houses, health, water and even heaven, we should act wisely when choosing the best of the worst on April 9. Don’t ever do what my grandma did in the 1977 elections in India.

My grandma, an illiterate, was nice to everybody. On the day of the election, she was on her way to the polling booth and met at least four representatives of different political parties. All these four requested her politely to vote for their parties’ candidates. She promised every one of them that she would do so. She kept her promise by voting for all four candidates, and all four were totally disappointed by her honesty.

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