Medan, Indonesia – Just seven days before the regional elections in Indonesia, the electoral commission announced that all COVID-19 patients would have the right to vote in isolation under a new electoral law drafted during the pandemic.
A cartoon was also posted stating 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 be pulling out under pressure from local hospitals and medical staff.
“The voting mechanism has been coordinated with local hospitals,” Herdensi Adnin, head of the general election commission in North Sumatra, told Al Jazeera.
“Meeting COVID-19 patients cannot be done randomly. A doctor or medical staff can record the voices as long as they have the correct records. So it’s no longer random, ”he added.
Fransiskus Ginting, director of Martha Friska Hospital in the provincial capital Medan, told Al Jazeera that the hospital is treating “serious” and “critical” COVID-19 cases that were consulted with the local government the week before the elections .
“We have decided that our medical team will guide the election committee through the process. We hope the procedure is fine and there are no infections, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Several poll workers Al Jazeera spoke to said they were satisfied with the new policy and “shocked” at the prospect of entering COVID-19 isolation wards.
Indonesia has been criticized for holding regional elections across the country in which more than 100 million people were eligible to vote. In Wednesday’s regional elections, governors, mayors, regents and district leaders were elected in nearly 300,000 polling stations in 37 cities.
‘I can not wait any longer’
The third largest democracy in the world has been the hardest hit country in Southeast Asia when it comes to COVID-19 infections, with nearly 600,000 cases and nearly 20,000 deaths. On election day, Indonesia recorded the highest daily death toll with 171 COVID-19 deaths.
There have been calls for the election to be canceled after it was first postponed from September to December, but President’s spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said in September: “President Joko Widodo has claimed that the regional elections cannot wait for the pandemic to end is because no country can predict the end of the pandemic. “
In Medan, the director of Martha Friska Hospital, Ginting, said his patients were “very happy and wanted to exercise their right to elect their mayor and deputy mayor”.
In Indonesia, voters use a nail to pierce the voting paper and select their preferred candidate. All ballot papers and the nail were disinfected when they were returned to the election workers to further reduce the risk of contamination.
Coordinating nurse Danhaydy at Martha Friska Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra [Tonggo Simangunsong/Al Jazeera]Coordinating nurse Danhaydy, who facilitated the voting process for the nine eligible isolated patients at Martha Friska Hospital, told Al Jazeera as he walked into their isolation rooms, “The patients chose the candidates on their own terms and I chose them for they recorded. They didn’t touch the nail. The candidate you voted for is a secret between you and me. “
Election worker Harry Siregar said this was not a violation of a patient’s right to privacy, but an extension of doctor and patient confidentiality at an exceptional time.
“We have to do our best,” he added.
In the run-up to the election, 76 candidates signed COVID-19 – according to Lapor COVID-19 – and at least four died.
On Wednesday, election commissioner Ilham Saputra said 79,000 out of two million electoral workers tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the vote.
In addition to the new protocols for isolated patients, voting booths across Medan had a number of coronavirus procedures in place.
Hospital director Fransiskus Ginting in Medan [Tonggo Simangunsong/Al Jazeera]Helty Susilo, polling officer at the TPS22 polling station, said all voters must wear plastic gloves and use hand sanitizer before and after voting.
In Indonesia, voters usually dip their pinky fingers in ink to show they voted, but Susilo said this has been stopped for fear of contamination from the ink bottles.
“This time we put the ink on her finger from a brush,” he said.
Susilo also stated that anyone registered at the TPS22 polling station was allowed to vote – even if they felt uncomfortable.
“We had a special stand outside for all voters with a temperature of over 37 degrees,” he told Al Jazeera. “You could vote, but only at the booth and had to leave immediately after the vote.” They weren’t allowed to linger. “
Susilo added that he was not afraid to work at the polling station on election day. “I’m just trying to think positive thoughts, eat well, and stay healthy,” he said. “You can get COVID-19 anywhere these days.”