Indonesia Presidential Election Visit Program
By: Katie Ryan, IFES Senior Training and Gender Advisor
Rutan Pondok Bambu Women’s Prison, Jakarta
(by Katie Ryan, photos by Katie Ryan unless otherwise credited)
"It is the human right of these women to have the chance to vote. All citizens of Indonesia, whether they are outside or inside a prison, should have the chance to vote."
-Sri Susilarti, Chief Prison Warden at Rutan Pondok Bambu, Jakarta
On July 9, 2014, as part of the IFES Indonesia Presidential Election Visit Program, IFES Indonesia Program Officer Marti Yusnida and I visited Rutan Pondok Women’s Prison in Jakarta with a group of female diplomats. In Indonesia, unlike many other countries, prisoners serving a custodial sentence have the right to vote.
Following a security check, we walked out into a spacious and leafy courtyard bustling with activity. As queues of animated women were standing in orderly lines waiting to cast their vote, prison staff and security personnel kept a low-key but watchful eye on the proceedings. There was a great deal of press interest because a high-profile prisoner, Angelina Sondak, a former Miss Indonesia and celebrity-turned-politician, was casting her vote (Ms. Sondak was convicted of corruption in 2012 and is currently serving a prison sentence in Rutan Pondok Bambu).
Having had a chance to walk round and look into the two polling stations where voting was taking place, we also had the opportunity to talk to Sri Susilarti, Chief Prison Warden at Rutan Pondok Bambu. She explained that there are currently about 1,800 women in the prison who are awaiting sentencing or serving sentences for different types of offenses ranging from petty crime to corruption and murder. Approximately 700 are serving sentences for drug-related crimes, and the average prison sentence in Rutan Pondok Bambu is 10 years. Some of the women had young children with them. We saw one of the 20 children in the prison with her mother who was waiting in line to cast her vote.
There are 1,071 names on the voter registry in the prison and 933 women cast their vote. Sri Susilarti told us that the women were extremely enthusiastic to participate in the election. She explained that they learned about the candidates and their campaigns by watching television and reading newspapers provided in the prison. The prison staff also ran a voter education campaign. This began with the head of poll workers visiting the prison to train prison staff. This information was then shared with nominated prison cell coordinators who in turn shared the information with the rest of the women.
Our visit to Rutan Pondok Bambu provided us with an opportunity to see an example of international best practice in action: by allowing prisoners to vote, this often marginalized group is able to participate in the democratic process and have a say in the future of their country.