Fri, 11 Jun 2004

A question of ethics

Although the number of campaign violations ahead of the July 5 presidential election is still relatively small -- 54 compared to 1,300 infractions during the first week of the legislative election campaign -- they nevertheless indicate a rather disconcerting willingness on the part of all of the candidates to circumvent the rules and regulations to suit their own ends.

The Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu), in a statement issued on Wednesday, said it had found both "administrative" and "criminal" violations committed during the first five days of campaigning by all of the candidates, without exception.

The incumbent President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, and her running mate Hasyim Muzadi had the dubious honor of being at the top of the list with 14 violations, ranging from the illegal use of state facilities to disrupting public order, campaigning outside their designated periods and giving the go-ahead for state officials to campaign on their behalf.

Infractions categorized as "administrative" in nature include such relatively minor violations as the display of the symbols and attributes of candidates outside designated areas, staging campaigns in violation of existing regulations, failing to notify the police of rallies and involving state officials in campaign activities.

Violations of the criminal category, on the other hand, include more serious offenses such as the illegal use of state facilities and disturbing public order.

So far, the Election Supervisory Committee appears to have done a satisfactory job of tallying and tabulating the violations committed by each of the five pairs of presidential and vice presidential candidates, even though its findings may appear overly optimistic to the public at large. To many Indonesians who have seen the campaigning in person or who have followed it through reports in the media, it may seem incredible that "only" 54 violations were committed nationwide during the first five days of the campaign.

One of the most serious offenses -- and one of the most difficult to prove -- is what Indonesians refer to as "money politics", or vote buying. In the minds of many Indonesians, if not most, there is no doubt that money politics is being practiced in the presidential election, especially since such money if often given in the form of voluntary donations. In the absence of tangible evidence of malfeasance, however, all the Indonesian public can do is stand in amazement at the enormous wealth which most of the candidates appear to be wallowing in.

In any case, assuming that the committee's findings are correct, the next step would be to take fair and proper action against all of the violators, without exception. According to Panwaslu vice chairman Saut Sirait, the first step would be to ask local supervisory committees to collect all the evidence necessary, and, in the case of administrative violations, written reprimands would be sent to the violators. Violations falling under the criminal category would be processed in accordance with the dictates of the law.

Actual action has in fact already been taken in a few cases. The committee has reprimanded the minister of religious affairs, Said Agiel al Munawar, for campaigning without first taking leave from office. In Yogyakarta, the General Elections Commission has threatened to bar presidential candidate Amien Rais and his running mate Siswono Yudohusodo from further campaigning in the province after a person was found using a state-owned car to attend a rally staged by the pair.

All of this raises the hope that the process of democratization is evolving positively, if slowly, in Indonesia. Panwaslu's efforts to become an effective instrument in supervising the election process -- helped, no doubt, by the experience it gained during the recent legislative election -- represents a good step forward in that direction. Now it is up to the presidential candidates to make a contribution to the process of Indonesia's evolvement toward becoming a full-fledged and healthy democracy in the not too distant future.