Medan, Indonesia – Just seven days before the regional elections in Indonesia, the electoral commission announced that all isolated COVID-19 patients would be eligible to vote under a new electoral law drafted during the pandemic.
He also released a cartoon indicating that two election officials and two witnesses wearing personal protective equipment would enter each COVID-19 isolation room to oversee the process.
However, on Wednesday the commission appeared to back down after pressure from local hospitals and medical staff.
“The vote compilation mechanism has been coordinated with the local hospitals,” Herdensi Adnin, head of the General Election Commission for North Sumatra, told Al Jazeera.
“Meeting patients with COVID-19 is not something that can be done at random. Thus, a doctor or medical staff can register the votes provided they have the appropriate documents. It is therefore no longer a coincidence, ”he added.
Fransiskus Ginting, director of Martha Friska Hospital in the provincial capital of Medan, told Al Jazeera that the hospital that handles “severe” and “critical” COVID-19 cases consulted with local government in the week before the election.
“We decided that our medical team would guide the electoral committee on how to carry out the procedure. We hope that the procedure will be correct and that there will be no infection, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Several election officials Al Jazeera spoke to said they were happy with the new policy and were “scared” at the prospect of having to enter the COVID-19 isolation quarters.
Indonesia has been criticized for holding regional elections across the country, in which more than 100 million people were eligible to vote. Wednesday’s regional elections were designed to elect governors, mayors, regents and district leaders from nearly 300,000 polling stations in 37 cities.
‘Can not wait’
The world’s third largest democracy has been the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia in COVID-19 infections, with nearly 600,000 cases and nearly 20,000 deaths. On polling day, Indonesia recorded its highest ever daily death toll with 171 deaths from COVID-19.
Calls were made for the elections to be canceled after they were first postponed from September to December, but President Fadjroel Rachman’s spokesman said in September that “President Joko Widodo has asserted that regional elections cannot wait for the end of the pandemic because no country can predict the end of the pandemic. “
In Medan, Martha Friska Hospital Director Ginting said his patients were “very happy and wanted to use their right to choose their mayor and deputy mayor.”
In Indonesia, voters use a nail to punch the ballot and choose their preferred candidate. All the ballots and the nail were disinfected when handed over to election workers to further reduce the risk of contamination.
Nurse coordinator Danhaydy, who facilitated the voting process for the nine eligible isolated patients at Martha Friska Hospital, told Al Jazeera that once they entered their isolation room: “The patients chose the candidates according to their own wishes, and I recorded it for them. . They didn’t touch the nail. The candidate they voted for is a secret between them and me.
Election officer Harry Siregar said this was not a violation of a patient’s right to privacy, but rather an extension of doctor-patient confidentiality at an extraordinary time.
“We’re going to have to do our best,” he added.
As elections approached, some 76 candidates contracted COVID-19 – according to data from Lapor COVID-19 – and at least four have died.
Election commissioner Ilham Saputra said on Wednesday that 79,000 out of two million election staff tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the vote.
In addition to the new protocols for isolated patients, the Medan voting booths had also implemented a range of coronavirus procedures.
Helty Susilo, an election official at the TPS22 polling station, said all voters were required to wear plastic gloves and use hand sanitizer before and after voting.
In Indonesia, voters typically dip their pinky fingers in ink to show they have voted, but Susilo said this was stopped out of fear of ink bottle contamination.
“This time we ran the ink from a brush on their finger,” he says.
Susilo also explained that anyone registered to vote at the TPS22 polling station was allowed to do so – even if they didn’t look well.
“We had a special booth set up outside for all voters who have a temperature over 37 degrees,” he told Al Jazeera, “They could vote but only in the voting booth and had to leave immediately. after the vote. They were not allowed to linger.
Susilo added that he was not afraid to work in the voting booth on election day. “I’m just trying to think positive thoughts, eat well and stay healthy,” he says. “You can get COVID-19 anywhere these days.”