Sat, 06 Mar 1999

General election test of RI's 'political maturity'

JAKARTA (JP): Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tanjung said Friday that the appearance of as many as 48 contestants in the June poll was a sign of freedom and democracy but could lead to clashes among rival supporters.

Akbar, also the Golkar chairman, was quoted by Antara as saying that the enormous number of contenders would be "the test case of the nation's maturity in politics."

He spoke after installing the new chief of the State Personnel Administration Agency (BAKN), Sofyan Effendi, who replaced Maj. Gen. (ret) Soenarko.

The government announced Thursday that 48 parties had passed the screening of a body called the Team of Eleven assigned among other things to verify eligible parties out of more than 140 which had registered themselves.

Akbar called on all party cadres, supporters and members to maintain security and peace in the polling process.

"Let's hope that the next election will be free of bloodshed ... and that all contestants compete fairly and avoid fanaticism and emotional actions."

Golkar has been charged with having great potential to abuse the elections through money politics. Akbar earlier said to achieve the target of at least 40 percent of the vote, cadres should actively approach people and attend to their vital needs such as the acquisition of scarce and costly fertilizers.

"It will be up to the people to decide which party is worthy of channeling their aspirations," Akbar added.

Separately Mulyana W. Kusumah of the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) estimated there would be 130 million voters eligible to participate in the next polls, five percent of whom were first-time voters.

The committee and two other poll watch networks, the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel) and the Rectors Forum, completed Thursday a joint code of conduct.

"We have agreed on area coordination, volunteer standards, training materials, a guide book and forms in the monitoring process as well as identification emblems," Mulyana, secretary general of the committee, said after a session on poll watch networks.

Mulyana, also in the Team of Eleven, cited several loopholes enabling fraud, which poll watchers should closely observe.

"The law on elections does not state clearly how far poll watchers can witness the election process. There are no clear rules guaranteeing that poll watchers can join in the counting of ballots. We have to push the National Election Committee to get such access."

He added the post-election period was very important to watch, "because experiences show that many abuses can occur, such as ballot boxes going missing," Mulyana said.

KIPP, the first independent poll watcher, was set up to watch over the 1997 polls. Intimidation of voters, witnesses or poll watchers would likely occur as in the past, Mulyana said.

Amrul Al Muktasim of the National Awakening Party (PKB) added that in the 1992 polls 1,890 violations were found, but nothing was done about them.

"I was an executive of the United Development Party (PPP) for 25 years ... the many abuses were ignored because at the end all parties had no choice but to agree to the results."

Mulyana added the Team of Eleven was still drafting details.

"We have finished around 30 out of 87 points, such as the voter listings, prospective legislators mechanisms, campaigns, voting and post-election matters," he said.

"There will be around 326,000 polling booths to be watched."

The planned 1,000 foreign observers would be registered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), he said, adding that space would be a problem in accommodating the many witnesses representing parties and poll watchers at a single booth.

In Semarang, students grouped in a poll watch network asked for security guarantees from universities and security forces in monitoring the election.

In Jakarta, representatives of 12 parties which failed the verification protested at the Ministry of Home Affairs, demanding that they be allowed to contest the polls.

The chairman of the Mega Bulls Party (Partai Mega Banteng), Pargianto, said letters for verification never reached the party as they were wrongly addressed to the non-existent "Mega Bintang" party.

Chairman of the Christ's Love Party (Partai Cinta Kasih Kristus), Sipayung, said the team failed to verify its chapters in Irian Jaya and Maluku, where the party had many supporters.

Meanwhile another 12 verified parties listed Friday their representatives to sit on the National Election Committee, the membership of which is to be announced Monday.

The committee comprises parties, lay figures and government representatives. (edt/har)