The New York Times

February 17, 2009, 8:01 am


Indonesian term for voters who refuse to participate in elections – either by casting a blank or spoiled ballot or by boycotting the polls. (Golput is a portmanteau of Golongan Putih – “white party”.)

Reporting on Indonesia’s upcoming elections for The Asia Times, Megawati Wijaya observed:

With new legislative and presidential elections scheduled for this year, political analysts are focusing on the potentially pivotal role of the so-called golput, registered voters who choose for various reasons to either stay away from the polls or cast blank ballots, which accounted for around 25 percent of the electorate at the 2004 legislative polls.

Wijaya described the golput as the “real percentage winners” in 2004 – since the most popular political party only attracted 21.6 percent of the vote – and she cited research suggesting that the golput figure in 2009 might reach 40 percent.

The reasons for non-participation vary: some can’t be bothered to vote; some are overwhelmed by the electoral choices; and, perhaps most crucially, many feel the democratic process has – like its authoritarian forerunner – failed to adequately address the crucial issues of inequality, injustice and corruption that successive elected leaders have promised to tackle.

Various efforts are being made to encourage people to vote. In one region, officials have been promised free motor-cycles where the golput rate is below 5 percent, and one of Indonesia’s Islamic authorities has issued a non-binding fatwa against vote abstention.

(According to The Jakarta Post, golput was first used in the 1970s to describe dissidents who protested against Suharto’s regime by spoiling their ballots. The word is a play on Golkar – “Suharto’s political machinery that helped secure his five-yearly reelections until 1998.”)

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