Ballad of Simultaneous Elections, Those Left Behind
Arnoldus Janssen Joemantoro was only 16 years old when he became an orphan. His father, Tommy Heru Siswantoro, died after serving as a member of the Voting Organizing Group (KPPS) at TPS 19 in Pacarkeling Village in 2019. Just two years later, Duta's mother, Maria Magdalena, lost her life in an accident. The 2019 elections marked the new beginning of Duta's life.
In the last simultaneous election, Duta remembered how busy his father was while preparing for the election, which was a historic event for the Indonesian nation. A total of five ballot boxes had to be counted and prepared, consisting of the selection of members of the DPR, DPD, Provincial DPRD, and Regency/City DPRD. Additionally, there were presidential and vice-presidential elections.
Additionally, there were presidential and vice-presidential elections. In the midst of this busy life, Duta knew that it was very difficult for his father to find time to eat. Leading up to the election day and the elections themselves, his father worked from morning to night. His stomach was only filled with coffee and cigarette smoke to help him stay focused and alert.
On the evening of April 17th, 2019, Tommy did not come home. The long election process meant that he was unable to reunite with his family the next day, April 18th, 2019. At first, his condition seemed normal, but after taking a shower, he complained of being out of breath. Since they didn't have any congenital diseases, the family wasn't too worried.
On April 23rd, Duta still had a memory of looking at himself in the mirror with his father. He couldn't recall the specifics of the conversation they had that night. For Duta, the conversation wasn't ordinary. Consequently, he slept soundly that night, unaware that around 3 or 4 in the morning, his father had complained of feeling sick and had asked to be taken to the hospital.
"That night I was watching TV while lying down. It's normal," said Duta when speaking to Tirto on Friday (21/7/2023).
Around 06.30 in the morning, Duta received the news of his father's passing. He rushed to the hospital, feeling shocked and disbelieving, riding his motorbike as fast as he could. When he saw his father's body in the hospital, tears started flowing uncontrollably.
"I was tired, and he mentioned that after the election, he continued to consume coffee and cigarettes. The doctor explained that there was an enlargement of the heart," Duta recalled, referring to his father's cause of death.
Tommy was not the only victim labelled as a "hero of democracy" by the government in 2019.
At least 894 officers involved in the election process died. Even worse, most of these deaths occurred sometime after the election. According to Duta, his father didn't have many options. The worsening economic conditions of the family and the difficulty of finding work forced his father to take on odd jobs. Being an election officer was one of these jobs. The smallest election officer received 400 thousand Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), and the largest is 1,85 million IDR.
Even though the amounts are certainly far from the UMR (Minimum Regional Wage), at least there is income to be earned. After her husband's death, Maria, Duta's mother, truly became the sole backbone of the family.
However, in 2020, the pandemic finally brought disaster. Maria was exposed to the COVID-19 virus, even though, according to Duta, her mother was in good health and there were no PCR/Swab test results that proved otherwise. Subsequently, Maria chose to return home to Kediri. There, she sells food with her parents and sends money to Duta every month, as he lives with his aunt in Surabaya.
In 2021, Duta visited his mother in Kediri. However, not long after, his mother had to go to Surabaya to complete some business. Maria ended up driving alone, riding her motorcycle for more than 120 kilometres to Surabaya. But on the way, she had an accident and died on the spot.
Despite being in the midst of the pain of losing his parents, Duta does not blame his father for working hard during the election. In fact, if there are simultaneous elections again in 2024, Duta wants to become a KPPS officer.
Duta isn't seeking the title of "hero of democracy," but for him, the election had taken his father's life. He wants to know how one can dedicate themselves to elections.
"Just want to know, how can one be so dedicated," he said. "Until now, I still miss my father. If it gets too heavy, just remember that you will definitely cry."
The Grieving Holds
On the same day, April 24, 2019, more than 250 kilometres away, Sapto Nugroho, Head of the Tasikmadu District Election Committee (PPK) in Karanganyar, Java, breathed his last around 00:00 after undergoing treatment for a week at the hospital.
Yuli Ambarwati, Sapto's wife, recalled that her husband worked excessively. But he didn't have many choices. At the age of 59 and with experience as an officer in previous elections, he had become the mainstay of the village, participating in the elections.
"I can only pray for that. It's called duties and obligations," said Yuli to herself as she reminded her husband to rest. On the morning of April 18, 2019, after the election, Sapto was already weak and almost unconscious.
At dawn, Yuli immediately called her neighbours to help take her husband to the hospital. However, at the hospital, instead of recovering, the doctor delivered the bad news that there was a narrowing of the blood vessels in Sapto's brain. A week later, his life could no longer be saved.
Yuli admitted that her life became harder after her husband left her. Sapto was the head of the family, known for his diligence, and he served as the backbone of the family.
Usually, in the morning, he would help Yuli clean the house. He was also the one who earned a living for the family, allowing Yuli to fully focus on being a housewife.
However, after Sapto died, the house fell into neglect, and Yuli's economic situation became unstable due to the lack of a permanent job.
“Sometimes sewing, sometimes doing odd jobs. Yes, it's just as simple as that," said Yuli.
Just like Duta, Yuli couldn't blame the state even though her husband eventually died from exhaustion after the election. However, she wished that simultaneous elections would no longer be an option. Too many elections made people like Sapto confused and unable to work optimally.
He felt regretful, especially if the election results later didn't bring about positive changes that the victims had fought for. Personally, Yuli found that the results of the last election failed to meet her expectations.
"We'll evaluate its performance," she said. "It's been difficult. But it doesn't seem to have [met expectations].”
Yuli mentioned that the Karanganyar Regent had visited and provided compensation of around Rp. 10 million, and village officials or the KPU provided compensation of around Rp. 36 million. Along with Sapto's earnings as the Chairperson of PPK, which amounted to 1.85 million IDR, Yuli and her children received at least 47,85 million IDR.
"That's for daily expenses," she continued.
In the end, no matter how much money there was, it couldn't replace Sapto in Yuli's life.
Syaiful Arief's house appeared cramped despite being inhabited by only five people: his wife, his third child, his son-in-law, and his two grandchildren. The second child lived outside the city, while the first child passed away around June 2023.
"Following our Father," said the third child, Nurhalifah with a little smile, but her face sombre.
Nur's father, Syaiful, who was the chairman of the KPPS at TPS 40 in Gundih Village, Surabaya, died about a month after the 2019 simultaneous general elections. On the walls of the house, adorned with family photos, hung two certificates of appreciation for Syaiful. One was given by the Mayor of Surabaya at the time, Tri Rismaharini, and the other by the Governor of East Java, Khofifah Indar Parawansa.
Both of them provided compensation of around 5 million IDR. However, this amount of compensation is not sufficient, even to cover the 20 million IDR annual rent for the late Syaiful's wood shop.
Nurhalifah had attempted to claim her father's health insurance, which was registered by the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) and the General Elections Commission (KPU), but her claim was not granted. Nevertheless, she needed money for family care, especially considering that Syaiful was still actively working and his mother was ill.
"But it was rejected on the grounds that your father died outside of the office, outside of his term of service," Nurhalifah recalled. “Many say it could have been taken care of, but I'm embarrassed. We’re talking about people’s lives here."
From the beginning, Nurhalifah had discouraged her father from continuing to be active in election activities, given that he was approaching 60 years old.
However, since Syaiful was in good health during the previous election, Nurhalifah didn't have strong reasons to insist on banning her father.
"But if I had known earlier [that I would end up exhausted like this], I would have strongly insisted on it," she added.
Nurhalifah, just like other family members who were left behind after the 2019 election, hesitates to blame the KPU, Bawaslu, and the government.
However, Nurhalifah urged election organizers to better prepare for elections. This could involve limiting the age of officers or holding elections separately, no longer simultaneously, to save time and resources.
For Nur, the election now stands as a bitter memory, particularly the simultaneous elections that produced numerous representatives.
"Because we've also had bitter experiences, and my father was a victim," she said once again, with a bitter laugh.