Monday, July 7, 2014

Your Vote Counts: Will you count on your own vote? And will it count for you?

            “Hopefully, Obama will win. Hopefully, Obama will win.” I said to myself, despite not being American. The past few hours have been festive. A tent equipped with giant projections of CNN, Fox News and Huffington Post, as well as free pizza fuelled our growing anticipation. A colour coded map of the United States stood before us, nervous liberal arts college students with worries ranging from college loans to reproductive health. The end of the night was nearing, the votes were being counted, I was worried, worried for the election outcome’s possible impact on Indonesian-U.S. relationships, and beyond worried for my friends and my dear school.
Will Indonesia fly or fall?

            Today, I am equally worried. Two days away from the Indonesian presidential election, my stomach is twisted. I feel constipated, I am constipated, not to mention bloated. Perhaps, it is the stress of being away from home or the stress of not being able to come back to the same home, ever. As an Indonesian, who is mostly identified by others as Chinese Indonesians, I have never been so worried about Indonesian politics ever before. Born in the early 1990s, I lived through the end of Soeharto’s regime. The May 1998 riots were barely etched in my memory, as I had the privilege of being a bemused child with family members living in a Muslim dominated neighbourhood. My limited understanding about the tragedy stemmed from the disappointment of realizing that Walmart at Lippo Karawaci had closed down. Little did I know, it was torched down by rioters.
            In the next decade, Indonesia saw a slew of leaders, beginning with B. J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. All brought their own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn, influenced the tides of fortune that enterred the country and left. Indonesia grew steadily, despite various political, natural and terrorist threats. In 2004, Indonesians flocked to voting stands for the first ever direct election, which marked a momentous step towards democracy.
            I am a born and raised Indonesian. More often than not, I have to emphasize that I was born and I was raised in this country, an archipelago that is rich in natural and human resources. A country that is diverse, yet united. A country that believes in gotong-royong or working together to maintain our independence. Having privilege has allowed me to live in other countries, perceived to be much grander than my own. I have been given the opportunity to study about my culture miles and miles away from foreigners who have only lived in Indonesia for two to four years at a time. I have had the pleasure of seeing how others see Indonesia and how Indonesians see Indonesia. The sight may not be appetizing, but it still speaks volumes.

            In the past, I was taught that my political voice was unimportant. It would be counted as zero, not one. Being at the ends of a bell curve somehow made the negation of my civil rights logical and worst, acceptable. Whilst I feel entitled to an education abroad, I did not feel entitled to vote in my own country. I did not worry about representation because I didn’t expect for any in the first place.
            As my anxiety regarding the 2014 Indonesian presidential election intensifies, it slowly catches up to the feelings I had during that fateful night in the fall of 2012. The tent was white, but all I could see was red or blue. I bit my nails, helplessly. The word was and perhaps, still is helpless. During the 2012 American presidential election, I did not have the civic right to vote. I was and am not a U.S. citizen. On the contrary, I can vote in this equally terrifying election. According to a letter that sits on my pantry, the identity card that is nestled in my purse, and a myriad other documents, I have the right to vote in the Indonesian election.
            Unlike many others, I missed the opportunity to vote abroad, where I am currently stationed. Hence, I have booked a ticket home to vote. Nonetheless, I have not boarded a plane back. The decision is still tucked in my palm, enclosed and temporary. In yester days, I believed that the candidates, their words during the debate, and the surveys would determine my decision. However, after a good long day at work, busily attending meetings and toilling around with the idea to write an election piece, I realized that I needed a starting point. By writing the beginnings of this essay, I traced the root of the problem: insecurity. 
            Writing this piece has been hard, because I continue to struggle with the same insecurities. I do not feel that I have a political say. I doubt that my voice will be heard or considered, let alone counted as one vote amongst many. I fear that casting my ballot will only support this argument. In the dark, I could rarely see another person with similar battles. But, I can see many who have the same doubts or who have resolved their doubts by focusing on the tight race between Prabowo Subianto and Joko Widodo. I see this and I tell myself that my fears may be true, despite all the technicalities involved. However, I have the choice to see it through. Much like an experiment, I can put my hypothesis on trial to achieve an outcome, an unknown outcome that will determine the next step. Thus, I shall undergo this test, I shall attempt to use my political voice, I shall vote.

P.S. Politicians, ranging from Obama to SBY to Jokowi and Prabowo, consistently say that YOUR vote counts. Oftentimes, the emphasis is placed on the nation or the candidate who says it. Now, let me ask you this: will your vote count for you? And will you count on your vote?

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