Sat, 03 Apr 2004

2004 elections not merely a big fiesta

Imanuddin Razak Staff Writer The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Today, nearly 147 million registered voters will throng polling booths nationwide with a single-minded agenda; to cast their votes to elect their representatives for the Regional Representatives Council (DPD), the House of Representatives (DPR), the Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD I) and the Regental/Municipal Legislative Council (DPRD II).

The elections of representatives will be followed by a direct presidential election on July 5 and probably a second round on Sept. 20 if none of the presidential candidates manages to secure a majority in the first round.

In terms of democratization, this year's elections are considered more democratic as voters will simultaneously vote for their favorite political parties and have the option to vote for individual legislative candidates, unlike the party-centric system used in previous elections where voters only had the option to vote for parties, and the party leaders later appointed the various legislators.

No less important is that the results of this year's elections are expected to help bring the country out of the prolonged multi-dimensional crisis that it has been mired in since 1997.

Various aspects of the organization of this year's elections have been examined by experts from different fields of discipline. They have mostly been critical, however.

Pessimists have expressed doubts whether this year's elections, with the new format, would bring about significant change in the country.

The say that the majority, if not all, of the people running for legislative seats and the presidency are the products of the New Order. The (legislative and presidential) candidates have enjoyed the economic glory, although mismanaged, produced by the New Order regime.

The candidates have also been part and parcel of the New Order regime's poor legal system, including poor implementation of the laws, which has been responsible for the country's crises.

In light of this reality, it is therefore understandable that the pessimists denigrate the political importance of the results of this year's elections, while acknowledging that the ballot is necessary as a democratic process.

Still, the show must go on as the general elections are the only way to achieve a legitimate state leadership and legislatures. And, whether the nation likes it or not, the elections will have to proceed and come up with results.

Perhaps it is true that the majority of the candidates are products of the New Order regime, who have been blamed for the mess in the country.

But, they are all we have right now and people cannot choose extra-electoral candidates as their state leaders and representatives.

The best thing voters can do is to vote for a candidate or candidates who they think can meet their criteria of good and credible leaders or representatives. They should cast their votes for the best ones among the available candidates in contest.

Though it is everyone's individual right, voters and people in general should not become golput(short for golongan putih, literally, White Group, by staying away from the polling booths or not perforating their ballot) as low participation in the elections will only weaken the credibility of the elected leaders, which at the end of the day will only hamper efforts to immediately bring an end to our prolonged crisis.

People should bear in mind that the nation cannot wait for another five years to start with urgent development programs. There is a lot of hard work that cannot be put off any longer -- not only by the elected government and legislatures, but every citizen.

If I may refer to an analysis by H.W. Houweling, an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Amsterdam; he states that Indonesia needs to immediately and simultaneously address several critical problems.

"It's not terrorism that is the biggest problem or risk Indonesia is facing, but corruption, crime, violence, economic stagnation, unemployment and political institutions that favor the status quo," he asserted.

"Indonesia needs a strong leader, but accompanied by strong legal order."

The professor indeed is not suggesting the return of a Soeharto-like president to power -- as has been recommended by certain groups of people who prefer the status quo -- but made it clear that Indonesians must elect the strongest possible among the available candidates as their president.

He also suggested the presence of strong legislatures to control the president (or the government).

People must still remember how relatively successful Soeharto was in bringing prosperity to some groups of Indonesians. But, he failed to lay down a strong foundation for the establishment and development of effective control mechanism to prevent any legal misconduct or violations of the existing laws and regulations.

It is now time for eligible voters to elect a government with strong leadership. They should not vote for a candidate or candidates merely because of sympathy or primordial sentiments, while neglecting the candidates' competence.

People must vote for candidates with strong leadership and managerial skills as well as vision of the future for both the legislatures and the state leaders.

At the end of the day, the results of the general elections will undoubtedly reveal the maturity and true characteristics of Indonesian people in political terms. It will show whether they are eager for reforms or prefer the status quo.

It is not wrong for them to vote for a party or presidential candidate that puts prosperity as the highest priority as people have been longing for prosperity for quite a long time since the downfall of Soeharto.

But again people must first elect the most credible representatives available in an attempt to establish effective control on the elected president or the government and also to make sure justice is upheld to avoid past mistakes of poor legislative control on the ruling government and a poor legal system.

On the other hand, the people's choice for a candidate or candidates merely favoring prosperity will also show the failure of the reform movement to address the issues of economic reform and good governance, as well as the current leaders' inability to get the movement back on track.