Tue, 09 Mar 1999

Code of conduct needed to avoid campaign violence

By Edith Hartanto

JAKARTA (JP): Political observers are making urgent calls for the establishment of a code of conduct for election campaigning, scheduled for May 15 until June 4, to avoid clashes between supporters of the 48 poll contestants.

Miriam Budiardjo and Amir Santoso from the University of Indonesia, Andi A. Mallarangeng from the Hasanuddin University in Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, and Ichlasul Amal of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta separately agreed that, democracy notwithstanding, 48 parties were too many.

They also agreed that banning street rallies, while encouraging public debates, would help to curb the possibility of election-related violence.

"The first strategy for... a peaceful poll is to set up a joint code of conduct for three phases: before the elections, the balloting day, and for the period after elections," Amir said.

He said the government should establish an agreement with party leaders at both provincial and regency levels to decide what can and cannot be done in the period around the elections.

"It's important for all parties to... agree on the same rules of the game and on the penalties available," he said.

Andi agreed that specific rules have to be set up as it would not be possible for all 48 parties to stage rallies in such a short time. "We used to have only three poll contestants... now, of course, we cannot implement the same campaign arrangement," Andi said.

The recently disbanded Team of Eleven -- which was in charge of selecting poll contestants -- has drafted a set of recommendations to the future National Elections Committee (KPU), including one stating that mass mobilization should be avoided.

Miriam, who was also on the team, warned that parties must accept defeat gracefully, while Amal said it was more important to boost participation in the June 7 elections.

The following are some of the experts' suggestions to the government, poll organizers and political parties:

* A joint code of conduct, which also includes details on penalties.

* No mass mobilization or rallies; rather, parties can campaign through public debates in the media.

* If a dialog is to be conducted in front of a large audience, it should take place in a suburban area to prevent the possibility of unrest and vandalism. In addition, security forces should be deployed to safeguard the event, Amir said.

* Parties must encourage their supporters to exercise self restraint. In the event of unrest, punishment must be applied, Andi said. "For instance, a party could be disqualified from the poll if its supporters initiated a riot," he said. "Parties must not wash their hands of these things. Think of this as a football game with a referee and clear penalties."

* Caution should be used in areas considered to be the strongholds of certain parties, Amir suggested. In Madura Island in East Java, for instance, there is a "Kampong PPP (United Development Party)" and a "Kampong PDI (Indonesian Democratic Party)".

Such labeling should be avoided as it would lead to greater danger of conflicts in the multi-party elections.

* The presence of poll monitors and foreign observers should be arranged in such a way so as to avoid disputes, Andi said. "It's a matter of space... a polling station is usually a small place, how can it be crowded by too many (monitors)? So I think they should take turns in monitoring the polls."

* In addition to party symbols and names, pictures of party presidential candidates must be attached to the balloting paper, Amal said. "This is important because too many parties cause confusion," he said.

* Parties must present the public with concrete political programs, Amal said.

* Relax. Miriam and Amir noted that to help ease tensions, the government, the public and political parties should remember that "elections are not a matter of life and death. People have to learn that losing is normal."

The political observers also recommended special treatment during elections for areas which have been rocked by unrest recently.

For instance, a special election area may be needed in Maluku and its capital of Ambon, according to Amal. "If the security forces could establish a buffer zone to reduce tension, why not do the same thing for the elections?"

Amal cited the 1955 multi-party elections when many provinces at that time were considered to be strongholds of rebellion and separatist movements.

The separatist fighters for the DI/TII Islamic state, for instance, ruled provinces such as West Java, Sulawesi, Aceh and Sumatra at the time. "But still in those areas polling was held normally. So why not now?"

Both Amir and Andi agreed on this point.

"No matter how small the votes will be (in those areas), their aspirations have to be heard. The same thing goes for Banyuwangi, Pontianak, Sambas, Aceh and all other areas hit by riots," Andi said.