At least 296 poll workers have died following Indonesia's massive general elections held on Apr. 17, according to figures released by authorities on Monday, triggering a wave of support for the victims and criticism of the treatment of electoral staff.
The Elections Commission (KPU) said that another 2,151 workers fell ill and that the majority of cases are related to extreme fatigue suffered by the more than 7 million people who worked at over 800,000 polling stations across the country on Apr. 17.
"They were exhausted because they had to fulfill their responsibilities, in some cases, for more than 24 hours," KPU spokesperson, Arief Priyo Exsanto, told EFE.
The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands spread over about 5,000 kilometers (3,106 miles) poses a major logistical challenge to carry out the elections, whose official results will be announced on May 22. Initial vote counts showed a victory for incumbent president Joko Widodo.
For the first time in the history of the world's third largest democracy, Indonesians voted for the president, vice president, members of the lower house and upper house along with legislative representatives at the provincial and municipal level, all in one day.
According to unofficial counts, 80 percent of almost 193 million Indonesians who were called to vote marked 5 ballots each, which were then tallied by hand by poll workers, in some cases until the following morning.
The number of deaths has triggered protests against the electoral system, with protestors gathering in front of the KPU headquarters in Jakarta on Friday, while on social media, users have listed the deceased as "martyrs of democracy" using the hashtag #IndonesiaElectionHeroes.
Wisnu Wibowo, aged 45, is recovering in intensive care at Persahabatan Hospital in eastern Jakarta, where he was admitted the day after the election, according to his younger brother Agung.
He also said that Wisnu, whose prior health conditions were unknown, is still not stable and remains unconscious most of the time, while his wife sits outside his room.
"There were too many victims. I think it was a very complicated election. I hope that in the future we can use another method so that there are no sick or deceased workers," Agung told EFE.
His opinion has been echoed by politicians, including vice president Jusuf Kalla, who has called for single-day elections not to be repeated, while the Finance Ministry has assured that the families of the deceased would receive financial compensation of 36 million rupiah (about $2,535). Those left with permanent disabilities would receive 30 million, while the sick and injured will receive either 16.5 million or 8.25 million depending on the severity of their condition, the KPU said in a statement.
Marcus Mietzner, an academic from the Australian National University, said that it was difficult to determine how many of those affected had died of exhaustion or other unrelated causes, adding that the government's compensation could serve as an incentive to report any kind of death, whether or not they are related to the election.
"It is probably instructive to compare this to the death ratio of Hajj travellers. In 2018, 385 Indonesian Hajj travellers died, out of a population of 203,000," Mietzner told EFE.
Ishak Sarawiajo led the working group at a polling station northern Jakarta where a colleague, Hamid Baso, in his 50s, fell into a coma for two days after the election and is now recovering in a hospital north of the city.
For Sarawiajo, the deceased deserve to be called "heroes of democracy", since they died fulfilling their democratic duty.