More Than 270 Indonesian Election Staff Die From Overwork

According to the Indonesian Election Commission, two hundred seventy election volunteers have died from fatigue and over-work related illnesses just days after national election polls closed. Indonesia held the world’s largest single-day election on April 17, and the deaths were reported to occur as a result of continuous hours of working, counting millions of ballots by hand. According to Al Jazeera, the nation’s voting was primarily peaceful, in terms of physical violence, with an eighty percent turn-out rate at the polls. While official reports as of Saturday night tally two hundred seventy-two deaths, 1,878 illnesses related to overwork were also reported among election workers. In response, Indonesia’s healthy ministry administered a circular, according to Al Jazeera, urging all health facilities to offer “the utmost” care to sick election staff. The finance ministry is also working on distributing monetary compensation for the families of the deceased.

The KPU, the organizing body of elections in Indonesia, has received rising scrutiny following election death toll reports. According to Al Jazeera, Ahmad Manzani, deputy chairman of the campaign of oppositional presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto asserted that, “The KPU is not prudent in handling the workload of staff.” The BBC further reports that other critics of the situation assert that Indonesia’s newly instituted election procedure placed unrealistic expectations on staff. Independent pollsters state, according to early polling data, that challenger Prabowo was the loser of the election, among claims of cheating and ballot stuffing from the incumbent and predicted presidential winner, Widodo. Reuters reports that the Widodo camp has since denied any accusations of unfair conduct.

The election result uncertainty seems to both bolster and highlight the injustice of the election staff deaths and illnesses in Indonesia. Because employees and volunteers died and fell ill attempting to count ballots that ultimately did not even successfully determine an election winner, it must be called into question why such a nature of work was expected, or worse yet, even demanded at all. Acknowledging the inhumanity and exploitation of labour through power, the strategy of overworking election staff rings questionable in terms of garnering horribly negative national attention surrounding a national feat: the world’s largest single day election. Surely, logistically the nation would fare much better in terms of moral and national reputation by perhaps slowly, accurately, and civilly counting ballots, rather than taking and threatening lives amid a national election and labour scandal.

The link between this week’s increasing election deaths and Indonesia’s ambitious attempts to successfully administer single-day voting has been widely acknowledged in previous reporting on the situation. The nation aimed to cut costs, according to Al Jazeera, and therefore combined the presidential election with the national and regional Parliamentary votes. It was broadly speculated before the election that this new election could redefine Indonesia as a nation. It is interesting, then, to consider the election deaths alongside a BBC report from five days prior to the election, which recognized that, although “initial results will emerge within hours, it will take a few weeks for the final results to become clear.” Given that knowledge of such a realistic timeline existed before election day, it is even more difficult to conceptualize the circumstances of these hundreds of deaths.

An overarching takeaway from Indonesia’s recent election consolidation, death-toll scandal, and election result conclusion, is that cutting monetary costs “on paper,” at national, corporate, even individual levels is not always simplistic, just, or ethical. National labour laws and the facilitation of moral labour practices play large roles in pursuing of the actualization of world peace. Although elite candidates may not have played direct roles in creating or perpetuating the circumstances for these election deaths, those in or pursuing power should feel compelled on one level or another to either denounce the conditions that allowed for such deaths, or to work to prevent their replication in future elections.