Indonesia holds nationwide poll despite virus warnings

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia held nationwide regional elections yesterday with more than 100 million voters eligible to cast a ballot, despite warnings the poll would worsen the nation’s COVID-19 crisis.

The archipelago of nearly 270 million – the world’s third-biggest democracy and fourth most populous nation – delayed the vote originally set for September as it struggled to contain soaring infection rates.

From the capital Jakarta to the holiday island of Bali, polling station staff in full protective gear enforced social distancing and took voters’ temperatures before polls closed at 1pm local time.

Abdul Rahman Wahab, 24, admitted he was nervous about turning up to vote on Sulawesi island.

“Health is my priority for sure, but voting is also an important part of our life in a democratic country,” he said.

A woman stands in front of a board displaying the current death toll and active cases of coronavirus in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

Conservative parties are looking to score big gains in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation as they ride a tide of rising religious conservatism.

In the second-biggest city Surabaya workers followed the tradition of donning superhero costumes, dressing as Spiderman to lure voters in.

Others were tasked with taking ballot boxes into hospitals so that COVID patients could vote from their sickbeds.

“All polling stations were disinfected,” said Head of a polling station committee in Jakarta’s Ciputat district Suprianto.

“We made spaces as wide as possible to allow for social distancing. Voters were also required to wear masks. If you don’t, then you won’t be allowed in the polling station.”

Voter Nur Oktaviani said the precautions had put her at ease.

“I’m not worried,” the 24-year-old told AFP.

“Here, they’re complying with health protocols.”

Hundreds of hopefuls – including President Joko Widodo’s eldest son – are vying for 270 positions, including regional governors, district heads and mayors.

Official results are not expected for several weeks.

At least four election candidates have died so far, according to independent research group Laporcovid, and more than 1,000 election agency staff were infected ahead of voting day.

Over 580,000 Indonesians have contracted the illness while the death toll stands at 18,000.

But the true scale of the crisis is widely believed to be much bigger, as testing rates are low.