13 July 2008

The Right to Vote -- "Golput"

There is a lot of talk at the moment in Indonesia in the lead up to the next election of "golput". Golput is the abbreviation of "golongan putih" or the white group. In this context it is a group that will exercise their democratic right not to vote and therefore remain white or unstained by the process.

The idea of not voting, at least for me, undervalues the point of the democratic process. In the Indonesian context it is disrespectful to the many people who fought and died for the right to live free in a functioning democracy. Even if you vote and the people you vote for do not win, at least you have stood up, you have been counted, and you have expressed your will. Not voting for me ensures that the status quo remains and that the system never changes. I see little honour in being able to sit back and say, "it's not my fault because I did not vote for that person as a matter of fact I did not vote at all!"

With 34 political parties running in the 2009 election (at the present time, this may change -- different post for later) there surely must be one person that you could vote for who is most likely to be your voice in parliament. They might not win but, once again, at least you expressed your principles through your vote.

This piece is not a lecture or sermon to the masses, but rather personal musings on why I vote and the reasons that I see voting to be important. It is also a chance for me to express some exasperation at why people do not vote. It has always amused me that the Gettysburg Address talks about "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" yet Americans en masse tend not to turn out to vote. It is bizarre to me that Presidents can be elected to the most powerful position in the US with the support of less than 50% of those who are of voting age. I guess you get what you vote for or more importantly what you don't vote for.

Hence my basic problem with the idea of golput. If you are not going to engage in the democratic process of elections then why complain when you end up with the status quo. I think that if you want to complain then you need to have taken the time to get to a polling station and express your hopes and desires for the future of your country. Golput strikes me as a back seat driver without a license telling the driver how to drive.

Truth be told this post was just going to be the following quote, but as usual I have gotten carried away in my little moment. Nevertheless, this is something that is worth reflecting on:

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost."

-- John Quincy Adams


Jakartass said...

I've posted a reply
a reply on Jakartass.

GJ said...

If you don't vote you forfeit your right to complain. None of the have your cake and eating it too.
Either you're all in or all out!!!

Jakartass said...

So what's the percentage of golput in other countries, GJ?

In Zimbabwe recently.they were in or they got killed ~ which was the only 'out'.

George Bush Jr., having lost the election in terms of the popular vote, only beat Al Gore through manipulation of cast votes by his brother Jeb, then Governor of Florida.

So who ate the cakes? It sure wasn't the voters.

Here in Indonesia, the general election process is heavily manipulated by the incumbent political parties, who choose their legislators with no reference to popular mandates. New parties generally have very strong ties to the Suhartoist old guard.

Choice? There isn't one because none of the electors will get to eat the cake. They'll merely get boxed meals, T-shirts and a dangdut gig or two.

GJ said...

I'm not sure across the board, as I come from a land of compulsory voting. You're fined if you don't vote. Yes you can cross your name off the electrol roll on polling day and cast an informal vote as a protest, but this is always in the low single digits.
I think in the USA anything over or around 60% is considered a good turn out.

On Zimbabwe, I will clarify my comments to "free and fair" elections.

George Bush, This is my point!! If more people would to get off their arses and participate, then Al might have won. Losing the popular vote and winning the election (gerrymander), well that's their system. There is debate over the merits of first past the post elections.
GB jr was re-elected, voters had a second chance!!

Cakes, This is about the endless whinging of people who at every opportunity complian about the government, and surprise, surprise never engage (see free & fair). Just because you can't win this time shouldn't mean giving up, if you do shut and accept it, is my take. Many times my political preference has been defeated at the polls, do I give up? no and I can complain about performance of the chosen government as I was active in the process.

Indonesia, like you I can't vote here. Shame as the governance of this fine country has a large impact on my life at present. I encourage all the local people I come in contact with to engage as I firmly believe this is the only way to effect change.

Choice, not so sure here, far from having any expertise. Local people seem to be able to say who they think is clean or dirty. This is at least a starting point surely.
Is it better to have a clean puppet or a dirty one?? Only an Indonesian voter can say.

I would prefer the boxed meal to a cake any day.


Rob Baiton said...


Glad I wrote something that inspired a post on Jakartass! I still stand by the belief that you have a responsibility to cast a vote even in a system where the outcome might be fore known.

Hence the quote I added by JQA.

On the golput front my argument was not that it was not a legitimate form of protest. In a compulsory voting system like Australia there a number of ways you can express your dissatisfaction with the system including a "donkey vote".

My point was that a golput by default says that there is not one candidate on any ticket that is worthy of your vote or who might represent a majority of your beliefs.

No one can ever represent me or my beliefs in full escept for me. But I can entrust that responsibility to the person I think would do the best job.

In any event, a politican will have many constituents to represent so the challenge of representing everyone's interest is a little larger.

Zimbabwe is an interesting case. There were still many brave Zimbabweans that risked it. It is not the run off election that one should be looking at but the turn out to the original election. The run off was a farce from start to finish.

However, we can also distinguish Indonesia from Zimbabwe. Although the Indonesian system is not perfect, the idea of golput seems to slow the drive to a better system (at least to me). That was my point.

I still stand by the belief that it is disrespectful to all those who have died and been jailed in the fight for the freedom to vote.

I note blokes like Budiman Sudjatmiko has thrown his hat in with the PDI-P (some might see that as a betrayal in itself) and now argues eloquently against the idea of golput.

Once again, nasi bungkus, a t-shirt, and a free dangdut gig or two is not always a bad thing in terms of might have spent the day without a meal. It is money politics at the very lowest denominator but it is permitted.

There is always a choice! These individuals still have the opportunity to cast a vote if they so choose. If they don't, then why complain.

If all those who want to vote golput, let's say 45%, all vote for the same candidate then that person will win and thus we have the seeds of change already planted.


If 60% of the electorate turns out in the US, then that is an excellent turn out. Last time around I think they were just 55% and this was the highest since 1968. Turn out in 1960 the year JFK was elected was 63%. What is more interesting is the number of voters turning out. In 1960 some 68.8 million voters turned out. In 2004 some 80.6 million turned out.

Enjoy your day one and all.

Rob Baiton said...


My apologies, I lied! 2004 voter turn out should read 122.3 million...

GJ said...

Forgiven this time!! But if it happens again you will be banished to the corner with the bloody accountants. Lying lawyers, not good.

Rob Baiton said...

Well, I did correct myself before someone else found my error :D

Jakartass said...

GJ and Rob.

Let me just reiterate that in the general election, electors vote for political parties, not for constituency representatives. There are some 15 (?) new parties who have 9 months to 'socialise' their platforms.

It's not a matter of selecting "a clean puppet or a dirty one" because Indonesians don't have a choice of personnel. They're more likely to vote for the party that offers their particular brand of religion, unless it's Christian.

One last thing. Rob, I don't think you can equate votes cast in 1960 and 2004. It's the percentage of the electorate that matters, given that there's been a threefold increase in population in those 45 years.

No matter. At least we bloggers exercise our democratic rights to leave comments all over hyperspace.

Rob Baiton said...


There is still a choice. To suggest that there is not I think misrepresents what is available. I agree that people have no choice but to vote for parties. There are no independents.

However, in Australia there are many parties that people may affiliate themselves with. So, the question is are people in Australia voting along party lines or the individual? My suggestion is that they tend to vote along party lines.

For example when I voted for the democrats in the Senate back in the day, I was voting for the party and not necessarily for the individual candidate. It was the party that I felt best represented my interests at the time.

The democrats won a few Senate seats at that particular election although not in the State where I voted.

This in many ways is similar to what happens here in that people vote for a party and it is the party that determines the numbering of the candidates. This is no different from a pre-selection process by the Labor or Liberal parties in Australia.

There are always allegations of branxh stacking and the like to ensure that head office favourites get the numbers necessary to garner pre-selection.

Using the numbers to show a decline in participation in the electoral process. This in fact supports your argument of an increasing level of golput.

However, you do a similar thing in support of your argument in equating the situation in Zimbabwe as justification for a golput in Indonesia.

My point is not to argue whether golput is increasing or decreasing or even whether it is a legitimate form of protest. I am merely asking does it serve the interests of the voter or does it serve the interests of the entrenched parties?

Golput does not serve the interests of ordinary Indonesians in my mind. It serves the interests of the status quo. Golput is a sign of increasing apathy with the process and is indicative of a situation where the majority feel that things / life is not too bad.

Yep, the blogosphere gives us that opportunity to voice our opinions. I think on golput, you and I are going to have to agree to disagree, as I do not see golput as a valid means of protesting the status quo. I would rather vote for a party that most closely represented my interests.

If I vote for them and they do not win, then so be it. I have participated, I have exercised my right to vote, and I have made my choice known.

That is what democracy is all about to me.

For others it is about exercising the right not to vote, I accept that option is open to you, but I do not agree with it.

This is my opinion, we can argue the merits, but ultimately it is a case of to each their own!

Ben of indo anon said...

wow, nice discussion. Sorry I missed it. Since it seems all of you are not Indonesian citizen, allow me to join in as one, to 'enrich' the nuance.

You all have good points and I agree that golput is bad. One vote can actually make a difference.

But, is golput the source of the problem or a consequence of it?

To some here, it is the latter. People have seen in the past that their vote did not change anything. Hence, they are skeptical. (Or defeatist).

So why election did not change anything? Here's my thought:

One: The candidates to choose from are all terrible. Remember the Jakarta governor election? Choosing between the two is like choosing which lunatics to run the asylum.

And two, Indonesian population are largely poor, and when you are poor, exchanging your vote with a box of instant noddle may seem like a smart idea.

And three, because we are poor, we cannot afford education that can help us to know better about the issues. So populism ensues: People cheer on parties who give empty promises. A party I know once promised a free Haj pilgrimage if they won...

There is no long term vision. A vision to one day fully adopt greener energy, for example. Or a vision to bring our education system to be one of the best in the world. Or something.
It does not sell and it does not bring votes. Do you know any of the political parties that have a long term development plan? I don't. And nobody seems to be complaining about it!

And this lack of vision come at a price. Experiencing electricity blackout recently?
That's nothing but poor planning. Poor vision.

If there is anything good out of this 'exercise' of democracy, is that it educates people to slowly see, that whomever they elected may impact their life, albeit later than sooner. This is a slow process, considering we only do general election once every five years. I don't think I would see any significant change in my lifetime.
That's why golput is a bad idea, because it will slow it down even more.

Just my opinion gents. Enjoyed reading your discussion.

GJ said...

You speak alot of sense to me. One day one vote will make a difference. Yes every five years will mean some slow progress. Hopeful a true statesman will rise to lead Indonensia and give this country a chance to be where it can and should be. The elimination of poverty a good education and health system for all,I know will con=me but the people need to demand it, it is their right.

Rob Baiton said...


Glad you finally made it by.

As always your inputs and insights are welcome.

As GJ said there is a lot of sense in what you have said. Change is slow and will remain so but that should not deter Indonesians from the challenge that lies ahead.

My point was really that you have to start somewhere and for me golput seems to be a means of delaying the start.

www.lugo-3d.com said...

The chap is definitely just, and there is no doubt.

terubozu-chan said...

For me there is no point in participating in election if ALL the candidates are more or less in the same level of uselessness. And how can you fix things if no candidates have the ability to fix things in the first place? Being golput means practicing our freedom of speech in NOT choosing anybody.