In Indonesia, nationwide poll holds despite COVID-19 warnings

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NATIONWIDE regional elections are underway in Indonesia today with more than 100 million eligible voters set to cast their ballot, despite warnings the poll would worsen the nation’s COVID-19 crisis.

The country’s poll originally set for September was put on hold as the Assian country of 270 million, the world’s third-biggest democracy and fourth most populous nation struggled to contain soaring infection rates.

According to report, from the capital city, 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 1:00 pm local time (0600 GMT).

Speaking to journalists, Abdul Rahman Wahab, 24, says, 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.

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Islamist 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 coronavirus patients could vote from their sickbeds.

According to head of a polling station committee in Jakarta’s Ciputat district, Suprianto, “all polling stations were disinfected, 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 the media, adding that they are complying with health protocols.

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  Meanwhile, hundreds of aspirants, 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 got infected ahead of voting day.

  It will be recalled that 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.

   “The most worrying thing is that it won’t be just young, healthy people casting their votes, but also the elderly, pregnant women and sick people, they’re all at high risk,” he said.

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  “The public service announcements and health protocols aren’t enough. Health is being trumped by political demands and that’s very concerning. It’s not worth it.”

  In the midst of the pandemic, voters had little chance to interact with candidates or understand their platforms, dealing a blow to a democracy that rose from the ashes of the Suharto dictatorship two decades ago.

   Widodo’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, 33, is running for mayor of Solo city in Central Java, where his father, a former furniture seller better known as Jokowi, started in politics.

  Jokowi’s son-in-law is also vying for office, stirring questions about whether Indonesia’s leader is trying to create a political dynasty more than a year into his second and final term.

  Vice-president Ma’ruf Amin’s daughter and Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto’s niece are also running for elected positions.

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