I attended an event organized by the Indonesian Embassy in Athens last Sunday afternoon. It was held at the Zirineio Municipal Sports Center in the northern suburb of Kifissia and was attended by dozens of Indonesian families, representing almost the entire community that lives in the Attica area.
There was music, singing, dancing and volleyball games, as well as food and a lot of good cheer. It was an opportunity for migrants who live and work here in Greece, far away from their home country, to mingle, have fun, let their children make friends and exchange news. However, what is most interesting is the purpose of the event.
Such gatherings are being held all over the world where there’s an Indonesian representation for the purpose of informing citizens living abroad of how they can exercisetheir right to vote in the next general elections, which will take place some 10 months from now, on April 14, 2019. Attention, not who they will vote for, but how.
Between the dancing and the games, those attending the event were addressed by the president of their association here and members of the embassy staff. They explained the purpose of the gathering and the process of where and how the people could vote in great detail. As they spoke, a large screen displayed information concerning what kind of official documents they would need and who has the right to vote, as well as the names and logos of the parties running in the polls, the names of the candidates running for the presidency and other such information.
The organizers also made a game of it, inviting different members of the audience to step up to the microphone and answer questions about the information they had just been presented. If they got it right, they were given a small reward; a wrong answer drew playful heckling from the crowd. The last speech was given by the ambassador, who stressed the importance of exercising the right to vote.
The event was cleverly planned so as to associate the concept of voting with a pleasant experience that was not at all partisan.
Indonesia has a population of 250 million and the percentage that lives abroad is so small its vote hardly affects the overall result. It was also a dictatorship until recently. Nevertheless, it treats the matter of elections seriously and with professionalism, educating its citizens in a timely manner and encouraging them to vote.
The percentage of Greeks with the right to vote who live abroad must be at least 5 percent of the domestic voter body. In theory, they have the right to vote in Greek elections from their place of residence, but in practical terms this is not possible because the “procedures are not in place.”
This makes us a rare, if not unique case, among the democracies of this world. Sure, the problems of procedure appear convincing coming from a country that is incapable of copying another country’s public transport ticketing system so that commuters don’t get away with fare-dodging. But I think the real problem lies elsewhere.
A part of the beleaguered Greek middle class has relocated abroad, a development that happened relatively recently, and its vote could affect the electoral result in a way that would not benefit the government.
What we have therefore is a system whereby if you want to vote, you have to take time off work, get on an airplane and then travel by bus to the village or town where you’re registered to do so.