Indonesia Knows How to Put On an Election

Democracy Elections Organizers Forum

            Newark            Countries everywhere might have something to learn from Indonesia.  Yes, you heard me.  Indonesians know how to get the vote out, even if sometimes their politicians don’t serve them well.  They make voting and election day a celebration and call it a “Pesta Demokrasi,” or Democracy Party.  It works too.  In the last election, they had 80% turnout, where in the United States we’re lucky to break 50%.

As a Times’ reporter brought us all the news, in Indonesia…

tens of millions of people across this vast archipelago of thousands of islands head to polling stations that are sometimes decorated with balloons, garlands and flowers, and manned by officials dressed up as Spider-Man, Batman, Thor or other superheroes. After voting for presidential, parliamentary and local legislative candidates, people camp out near their polling places with food as they wait for early counts to trickle in.

They have good reason, and have been holding these parties on election day ever since the end of the dictatorship.

The Organizers’ Forum visited Indonesia some years ago, and I was fortunate to return later around fifteen years ago to help train fifty young people who were going to engage in a get-out-the-vote campaign using the kind of doorknocking methodology that ACORN has pioneered.  Although the training was partially in English and translated in Indonesia, the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) called them all “rappers” since they were learning the rap.  One of the things we always noted was that one of the results of the brutal killings of the dictatorship, where many thousands of men were slain, was the prominence of women leading unions, social movements, and nonprofits in this huge Muslim country.  I wonder if that also has something to do with making the democratic act of voting a celebration, rather than another task for the day that too many avoid over here.  If you add to the party a day-long wait for the returns, the odds of any monkey business and constant claims about voting irregularities also becomes rarer.

Sure, some hardcore politicos have “watch” parties to see the results of the elections come across the screen, but that’s different from making voting itself a party and a pleasure.  It probably helps that Election Day is a national holiday and that the majority of voters are under 40, with voting as young as 17.  Plenty of party people in that demographic.

The Democrats and the Republicans have party in their name, but both of them seem to have lost that loving feeling for making democracy something to celebrate rather than shout about.  We could all learn something from the Indonesians, and it would be great to flip the script and make elections fun, rather than something too many dread.