Saturday, February 4, 2012

1 Person, 1 Vote? Not for many of Indonesia’s disabled people

From The Jakarta Globe in Indonesia. In the picture, a blind man casts a ballot during a voting drill for disabled people at the Yogyakarta Election Commission in November.

Electoral laws must be amended to guarantee that people with disabilities are able to run for public office and vote freely, officials said on Feb. 1.

Hafiz Anshari, chairman of the General Elections Commission (KPU), said this guarantee was missing in the current legislation governing polls. The 2008 Law on Legislative Elections only states that those allowed to run should be “well-spoken and literate.”

“What I wish to see is for lawmakers to include a provision that explicitly states that those with disabilities may run, because in the prevailing law that guarantee is only implied,” he said.

Hafiz, speaking at the opening of a regional dialogue hosted by the Asean General Election Network for Disability Access (Agenda), stressed that it was important that people with disabilities be given the same chance to run as everyone else.

“Whether they go on to win or not is up to the voters and the political parties backing them, but what’s crucial is that they are first acknowledged,” he said.

“Our laws must provide them more room to participate as legislative candidates. The technical details are something that the KPU can work out.”

Ariyani Soekamwo, chairwoman of the Center for Elections Access for the Disabled, told the dialogue that although the right of disabled people to vote was enshrined in law, the reality on the ground was that they were often left out.

She said this was because of the lack of facilities for them at polling stations and a general lack of training for polling officials in dealing with the disabled.

“They often have to vote in booths that are too narrow [to accommodate a wheelchair], or they find that they have to go up a set of stairs to cast their vote,” she said.

Ariyani, who is blind, also said that not all polling stations provided sufficient ballots in Braille.

“In the 2009 presidential election, [Braille] ballots were provided, but there weren’t enough of them,” she said.

She urged the government to provide more funding for facilities that would make it easier for people with disabilities to vote, and also for training for polling officials.

“Even though the law guarantees the disabled a vote, the implementation is weak because officials don’t understand,” Ariyani said. She cited the case of a blind man who was barred from voting while his wife, with no disabilities, was allowed to cast her ballot.

“It’s a major human rights violation when a person is not allowed to vote because they are disabled,” she said.

Wardana, the deputy foreign minister, said there needed to be a change in the public mind-set to ensure that the disabled were allowed to stand for election and vote without hindrance.