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‘Sham election’: Chaotic scenes as Indonesian expats storm Hong Kong polling station, claiming thousands denied vote

Hong Kong’s Indonesian expatriates voted for their country’s president, vice-president and legislature ahead of time on Sunday. But official witnesses at the city’s polling stations have said that only 27,411 of the city’s 180,000 eligible voters were able to cast a ballot. Emergency services were called as some voters stormed a polling station, whilst others passed out or vomited having queued for hours.

Hong Kong’s vote count will take place on Wednesday as polls open in Indonesia, where incumbent President Joko Widodo is running against retired military general Prabowo Subianto. Thousands of government and legislative seats are also up for grabs.

hong kong indonesian election

Hong Kong police and election volunteers request emotional domestic workers who couldn’t vote to leave the voting station. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

In Hong Kong on Sunday, over 30 Indonesians stormed into the polling station at Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai at 8:30pm – 90 minutes after doors closed. A domestic worker, who forced her way inside, petitioned election organisers, saying she had been in line for five hours.

“Since Consul-General Tri Tharyat promised us that the polling station would be open until all voters had a chance to cast their ballots, we left the line to come back later when there would be less people,” Wardah, who goes by one name, told HKFP. “Now you are telling us that the polling station has closed. That’s wrong, because at the entrance, there was a sign that said ‘7am to 11pm Opening Hours.’ That’s why we made our way inside.”

hong kong indonesian election

Election officials tell voters that the polling stations are now closed. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

As details of the incident spread across social media, election officials published a statement disputing claims of voters being turned away. By law, they said polls must close at 7pm: “[T]he committees combed the voting location to make sure that no voters were left. At 7:15pm, all the remaining voters were guided into the building before the entrances were closed. The voters queued inside the building, then exercised their right to vote. By 7:40pm, all the ballots were processed.”

Misinformation

However, Muthi Hidayati, an Indonesian Migrant Workers Union executive committee member, told HKFP that misinformation from the consulate, poor signage and contradictory instructions about invitation letters had caused confusion.

“Why did they tell us to register as voters and to bring our invitation letters if in the end, everybody is in the same queue outside and no-one cares whether we have them or not? I waited in this line for six hours from 12 noon to 6pm just to exercise my right to vote.”

hong kong indonesian election

The front desk where voters submit their invitation letters and have their details checked against a database. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

“The Indonesian authorities have been giving out so many mixed or unclear instructions which makes the elections totally chaotic and completely robs our citizens’ right to vote. The authorities receive so much funding from Jakarta to ensure the smooth running of the elections, but I want to ask, what have they been doing so far?” she added.

An official election witness, Wiwin Winangsih, said waiting times in Wan Chai were high as voters were filtered into booths very slowly and not enough rooms were opened up.

“[W]e should have had at least 30 voters per booth per hour. But in reality, the polling booths are very quiet. The volunteers are just sitting there, playing on their phones. Every 20 minutes, only one to three people enter each polling booth, while outside there are thousands who are lining up in the rain, desperately waiting to exercise their right to vote.”

‘This is crazy’

Outside the polling stations, HKFP spotted a number of domestic workers who had waited in line but were leaving in tears as they had to return home to their employers. One woman collapsed on the ground and was helped up by others around her, whilst another vomited in the bathroom.

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At the Kaifong Welfare Association polling station in Tsim Sha Tsui, queues of voters stretch hundreds of metres to Austin Road. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

“I’ve been waiting in line the whole day, but now I can’t wait anymore because I have to go home before my employer gets angry,” said one voter, who did not wish to reveal her name out of fear for her job. “I want to vote, but the Indonesian authorities are refusing to let me in to vote. This is crazy. Why bother having the elections indoors if we are waiting outside in the sun and rain for six hours? We might as well go back to doing the elections in Victoria Park like we did in 2014. Everyone could vote then.”

Zuhairi Misrawi, a legislative candidate from the incumbent Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle, who flew into Hong Kong to monitor the elections, told HKFP that the management of the elections was a total failure.

“At 1pm, there was a decision by Constitutional Court from Jakarta that allowed citizens without voting invitations to cast their ballots. In Tsim Sha Tsui, this decision was implemented at 2pm, in Yuen Long by 3pm. But Wan Chai was the worst. I don’t know why, but the decision was only implemented at 5pm. It was too late by then.”

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Voters were hurried along by Hong Kong police and election volunteers. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

When the Wan Chai station opened to unregistered voters at 5pm, many without invitation letters forced their way through the queues and crowded the entrance. Voters with invitation letters, who had been waiting for up to six hours, waved their papers in the air and shouting “move forward, “go in” and “we have to vote.”

Extra police, election volunteers and security officers arrived to manage the crowd as an ambulance and fire crew assisted those who fainted on site.

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Registered voters waving invitation letters and rallying at the entrance of the polling station at Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Wan Chai. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

When asked about why the lines were so long, another election official who flew in – Joyo Wardono – told HKFP that poor management was not to blame.

“In 2014, it was only the presidential elections. Now it’s the presidential and legislative elections together… Even the time it takes to unfold and fold the legislative candidate paper takes forever. Then you have some voters who read the names of all the legislative candidates one by one, all 105 of them. This affects the time it takes to vote.”

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Samples of the presidential voting paper (left) and the legislative candidate voting paper (right) in the voting hall, Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Wan Chai. Photo: Junko Asano/HKFP.

Ahead of Sunday’s chaotic scenes, consular and election officials told reporters that preparations had been ongoing for months, but warned polling stations would be busy.

“We have worked very hard to ensure that every ballot is in the right place at the right time when people come to vote and that everything is secure outside the polling station,” Overseas Elections Supervisory Committee Chair Kurniawan said. “We have focused on educating all our volunteers and witnesses about the election process. But there are just too many votes here, so there will be lots of conflicts about the voting process.”

Polls open across Indonesian archipelago on Wednesday.


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HKFP Writer

Junko Asano

Junko Asano

Junko Asano is a PhD candidate in International Development at the University of Oxford researching Indonesian domestic workers. She has previously written for South China Morning Post on ethnic minority youths.

‘Sham election': Chaotic scenes as Indonesian expats storm Hong Kong polling station, claiming thousands denied vote