Indonesians Vote In Parliamentary Elections

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Indonesians are voting in parliamentary elections that could determine whether the country's president will have enough support to win a second five-year term.


Indonesians went to the polls today for their parliamentary elections. There is a staggering number of candidates on the country's ballots, so many in fact that authorities are concerned about the mental health of the losers. NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Picture the Indonesian elections as a game of musical chairs, more than 11,000 candidates vying for just 560 seats in Parliament, and that doesn't include the million or so running for provincial and local seats. Psychiatrist Mohammed Sagid(ph) is worried about what might happen to the losers when the music stops.

Dr. MOHAMMED SAGID (Psychiatrist): (Unintelligible) from the depression of (unintelligible) and maybe be they must be psychotic, I think, because the chair only limited and the people is small than the 150 of chair.

SULLIVAN: Sagid heads the Surakarta Mental Hospital in Central Java, one of 32 state-run psychiatric institutions put on alert by the Indonesian Department of Health to cope with the potential flood of failed candidates.

Dr. SAGID: Five of psychiatrists and then six psychologists and we have 10 senior nurse and social worker we have too.

SULLIVAN: That's five psychiatrists, six psychologists and 10 senior nurses and social workers, all at Dr. Mohammed Sagid's hospital alone. Overkill?

Professor IMAM PRASODJO (University of Indonesia): Preparing for the mental hospital, I think it's a little bit exaggerated, you know. I don't think it's going to be like thousands of people going to be crazy, you know. I will be very surprised. I don't thing that's going to happen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SULLIVAN: That's University of Indonesia sociologist Imam Prasodjo. He says the government is overreacting but acknowledges some candidates did require hospitalization after the last election, and he expects more this time around with so many candidates running, many of them new to politics and naïve, Prasodjo says, and many betting the farm they'll win.

Prof. PRASODJO: Many of them, they spend a lot of money hoping that they will be elected and even many of them borrowing money from friends and then it's going to create problem, but I don't think that (unintelligible) thinking this is going to be like a disaster.

SULLIVAN: And in fact far from being a disaster, Indonesia has much to celebrate this Election Day. The world's largest Muslim majority nation is now one of the strongest and most vibrant democracies in Southeast Asia, just a decade after the fall of the authoritarian Suharto, who ruled the country with an iron fist for more than 30 years. Some Indonesians and some government institutions may be taking today's election a little too seriously, but Indonesia has come a long way in the last decade and too much interest in the democratic process is probably a lot better than too little.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

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