• Sat
  • Nov 29, 2014
  • Updated: 1:05pm

Barefoot up a mountain: no effort spared so Indonesians can vote

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 3:50am

Carrying ballot boxes on their backs, Indonesian tribesmen climbed barefoot up a mountain in a remote part of Borneo island to ensure a small village would not miss the chance to take part in today's presidential poll.

It is just one example of the great lengths gone to in the world's biggest archipelago nation, home to some 6,000 inhabited islands and stretching about 5,150km east to west, to organise elections.

Months of painstaking preparation culminate in a week-long operation, with ballots taken in speedboats to remote islands, carried on horseback along mountain paths, and in helicopters and small planes to far-flung hamlets.

There will be some 480,000 polling stations set up for the vote across the world's third-biggest democracy. The nation boasts 190 million eligible voters, from the crowded main island of Java - where more than half of the country's inhabitants live - to mountainous eastern Papua and jungle-clad Sumatra in the west.

"Geography is always a problem in Indonesia," election commission spokesman Arief Priyo Susanto said, ahead of today's poll in which Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and ex-general Prabowo Subianto are in a tight race.

"We distribute logistics to the most remote and least accessible areas first."

The 15 men delivering voting slips on Borneo were from the Dayak tribe, feared in the past for ritually decapitating their enemies then preserving their heads, and they faced a two-day trek over mountains and through the jungle to reach Juhu village.

They ran a gauntlet of stampeding wild boar and streams filled with blood-sucking leeches, in areas where there is no phone signal and temperatures plunge at night.

"It's better to walk non-stop for 18 hours than to sleep overnight," said local election commission chief Subhani, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

In the Bondowoso district of eastern Java, ballot boxes were being strapped to 20 horses tasked with carting voting slips up precipitous rocky slopes, along deep ravines and narrow dirt paths to highland settlements that vehicles cannot reach. "It's too dangerous for cars and motorcycles as a wrong move could mean falling to one's death," district election official Juli Suryo said.

In vast Papua, ballots are taken to polling stations by jeep, speedboat and on foot. This year the military is using three helicopters to help with distribution.

Previous elections have gone well, and have largely been considered free and fair, and officials are confident that this year's poll will also pass off without major disruption. "It's a challenging task but we are trying our best to ensure everything goes smoothly on the day of election, and everyone eligible gets to vote," said Papua election official Muhammad Ikhsan Payapo.


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