Journal Province: West Java Regency/City: Sukabumi Regency Subdistrict: Parungkuda

The Election and the Three Sisters

Written by Otty Widasari


As usual, Wak Padi went home to Kampung Sawah every Wednesday. But on this Wednesday, she came home not to attend the traveling bank weekly meeting. That meeting was canceled today because of the Legislative Election. Yes, Wak Padi came home in the morning from Cianjur, where she had a rice stall business, to vote in her hometown. When she arrived at home, she was greeted by her grandchildren. Those children were happy to know that their grandma would go to the TPS (Polling Station). “Grandma, I’m going with you!!!” they whined back and forth when they saw her dressing up. Then the grandma dressed them as if they would go on vacation. Wak Padi walked from home towards the TPS (Polling Station – Tempat Pemungutan Suara) in an Elementary School for almost 30 minutes with her three grandchildren. On the way there they joined another group. They were Wak Pandan, Wak Padi’s older sister and Ibu Mawar, Wak Padi’s youngest sister.

Ibu Mawar’s husband didn’t go to the TPS and neither did Si Abah, the father of those three sisters. They didn’t get the invitation to vote this year, didn’t know why.

None of three daughters of Wak Pandan went either. They were busy with their domestic affairs, besides not getting the invitation either. Meanwhile, Wak Pandan’s son was getting into trouble in the factory where he worked. In short, young people who went to the TPS of this three sisters’ family were only Ibu Mawar’s 24 years old oldest daughter, who would vote for the second time in her life, and later Wak Padi’s daughter who was also 24 years old but already married and brought her two little children.

One group blended with the others, the voter mass in Kampung Sawah. Every group had the same members, mostly older people. A few young people were dominated by women and children. The atmosphere around the TPS was noisy, full of women’s chatter and the squeal of children, running and playing.


Everyone dressed appropriately, wearing nice clothes to go out and putting on makeup. Little children were happy as if they went to the amusement park. The residents of Kampung Sawah very appreciated this once every five years event. They considered it as a duty for them and kept doing it once every five years.




A classroom in an Elementary School where their mother had gone to school and where their children and grandchildren now went to school was transformed into a TPS, like the years before now. For the schoolchildren, today was a break from a boring study routine. Meanwhile, for women and men, this was a break from the daily routine where there was always the need for ‘holiday’ for everyone who had a routine. To be exact, this Election event was a recreation.


The officers who administered the TPS wore batik uniform and Sundanese blangkon. Three officers wearing Hansip (Pertahanan Sipil – Civil Defense) uniform, were ready to do their job. The first one was around 60 years old, standing at the entrance. His job was to take the ballot paper that had been signed by the officer and gave it to invited voter. Then he organized the waiting room circulation so that it wasn’t too full of people. When the room was rather empty, he would ask people outside to come in and to sit on waiting chairs. There were some voters who were reluctant to wait in the crowd inside the room, so the Hansip would be a little bit nasty, forcing them to fill some still empty waiting chairs. The second Hansip was very old by the look of his wrinkled face. He stood near the exit. His job was to ask the voters who had already voted to dip their finger into the ink bottle as a sign that they had already voted. He also asked them to show their stained finger then asked them to leave. The third Hansip walked back and forth outside the voting room between the entrance and the exit. His job was to monitor the situation. He looked a little younger than the other two Hansips. He still looked fitter, maybe that was why his job was to secure the situation outside. However, if there had been a chaos at this TPS, whether those three old Hansips could handle it well or not was debatable.

There was a piece of cardboard which was glued to an area outside the room which was prepared as a mean to clean the finger from the ink. In the afternoon, that piece of cardboard was seen like an abstract painting with random scratches of purple ink. Very nice!


During the event, Ibu Mawar kept stating herself as a loyal supporter of a certain party, although she didn’t know the exact reason why. She also kept telling the story that since the first time she had voted she had always been voting for that party even though nobody paid her.


When they arrived at the TPS, the group of the three sisters immediately gave the invitation for the voter who was already in the Permanent Voters List (DPT – Daftar Pemilih Tetap) to the officer, then sat on the waiting chairs, waiting for their name to be called by the officer to vote.


But it was different with Wak Pandan’s husband. Maybe because he was in a daze, thinking about his son who was in trouble at work, he still kept the invitation in his shirt pocket then he went straight to the waiting chair to sit. Nobody realized about that mistake, even his wife. After all the names had been called one by one to get in the voting booth to cast the vote, Wak Pandan’s husband started to look around because he had not been called yet. When finally he started to complain about it, their group started to whisper noisily. Why was it like that? Why hadn’t he been called? Where did his invitation letter go? The group of the three sisters burst into laughter when they realized the invitation letter was still stored in the pocket. Ibu Mawar immediately responded, “Well, then you won’t be called till the end of time!”


Wak Pandan’s husband voted the last, but was the first to go home. The three sisters and their daughters still gathered in the hallway in front of the classroom to chat. The conversation topic was hot about Wak Pandan’s son’s problem at the factory. The confusing information got out of the women’s mouths. They didn’t stop feeling sorry about the incident. Wak Pandan was very angry with this incident. Some employees had admitted stealing a few pieces of shirt, but the factory had lost thousands of shirts, so a few employees were interrogated continuously so that the police and the factory could find the main leader. The whispering kept going on for minutes in the hallway. They lowered their voices every time somebody – who wasn’t the member of the family – walked past or greeted them. This was a family business. This could become a scandal. Only the faces of the legislative candidates in the pictures and the parties’ symbols which formed a line in the hallway became the silent witnesses. The little children played the game of tag happily in the schoolyard.


When the sun was getting higher, the three sisters and their daughters and grandchildren went home. Not to their houses, but to Wak Pandan’s house. The conversation about the factory case then continued, this time in a normal voice. Each of them waited for their turn to give their opinion about this case. Wak Pandan was quiet because she was sad. Now and then her daughter’s cell phone rang. Every conversation on the phone was always done in another empty room, because it was confidential. Every once in a while the phone changed hands between Wak Pandan and her daughter, and the conversation was still done in another room. There were a few unanswered calls because they were considered worsening the mood. Sometimes they took turns to solve the problem through the phone. It wasn’t clear who the caller who kept calling was.

The conversation was getting hot, they were losing their voice and smoked many packs of cigarette. None of them drank even though their throat was dry because of the sad problem. Smoke billowed in that small room. Wak Pandan’s husband, the only man in that room, only said a few words angrily, then he went, either because of the smoke stung his eyes or because he didn’t want his son’s problem was discussed continuously without certainty.


Various possibilities of how to solve the problem were suggested. One suggested the mass mobilization of the factory employees to protest – didn’t know which side to protest against. They regretted the nationality of the factory owner who was Indonesian, because if the factory owner had been Taiwanese or Korean like most other factory owners in that area, then they would raise the issue of oppression as a protest object. One suggested the problem solving mystically. There was a talk about giving water which contained a certain spell, didn’t know for whom, to an intention to give their son’s underwear to a shaman so the spell was put on it too.


In the middle of this big problem, the closeness between family members felt more, and so did the level of religiosity, to the mystical level. They kept repeating the story of wird and tahajjud that had been done continuously to save the son’s fate. Anything would be done for him, even selling their house if needed.


The big conversation about the incident at the factory quietened down gradually when Wak Pandan’s family accepted a call which seemed to ask them to bring some of his son’s stuff to a certain place. The family frantically searched for a few of their son’s stuff as requested by the caller. Wak Pandan seemed ready to leave the house soon. The family room where the big family gathered still sounded noisy of the women’s conversation after they had been quiet for a minute as usual when there was a call. The conversation topic had changed, not focusing on the incident at the factory anymore. As if just making it through the storm, Wak Padi started to tell a story about her new assistant in her rice stall in Cianjur cheerfully. The new assistant liked to flirt with the customers but couldn’t cook. She had fried a fish that had not been cleaned yet, so that it had caused the oil in the pan turned into black because the bile liquid of the fish had spread. Then Ibu Mawar started again her political statements about her willingness to vote for a certain party from the first time without any reward. Then she started the happy dance shortly after they heard from the news on TV that her beloved party had won the election based on the early result.


Research and photos by Roberto Satyadi & Mohammad Fauzi

About the author


Otty Widasari

OTTY WIDASARI is an artist, writer, director and curator. Currently, she is the Director of the Media Education and Empowerment Program (AKUMASSA) at the Forum Lenteng.

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