Sat, 15 Mar 2003

General election to be on April 5 next year: KPU

Arya Abhiseka, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

After much anticipation, the General Elections Commission (KPU) announced on Friday that the general elections will be held April 5, 2004.

KPU chairman Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin said April 5 would be a national holiday, allowing voters to miss work and make it to polling booths across the nation.

"It has been finalized for April 5. On that day we will hold the legislative election," he said.

He said his commission had picked the date after reviewing several technical issues, in particular the expected weather conditions across the country.

"The weather factor in the eastern part of the country played a major role in our decision, as ballot counting would be difficult to accomplish in those areas during the monsoon season between January and March," he said.

KPU also took into account its agreement with the Central Bureau of Statistics on moving the voter registration deadline back to December.

"We have adjusted our time line for the elections preparations based on those factors," he said.

KPU, however, is still unable to set a date for the two-stage direct presidential and vice presidential elections, with the deliberation of the presidential elections bill by the House of Representatives not even begun yet.

There is skepticism about whether Indonesia will have a new president and vice president by October of next year, when the term of the current President and Vice President ends.

Requiring sufficient time to prepare for the presidential election, Nazaruddin called on the House to discuss and approve the bill on presidential elections soon.

"We have a concept of the presidential election, but we still need the legitimacy of the bill on presidential elections before beginning preparations. We can only hope that the bill will be passed soon," he said.

Nazaruddin said that in the coming weeks the KPU would focus on setting up provincial and regency-level KPUs by the end of May.

The establishment of provincial and regency-level KPUs is instrumental in the next step of verifying which political parties are eligible to contest the general election.

Currently, there are over 230 political parties hoping to contest the elections.

But they must make it through a two-stage verification process, to be conducted by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the KPU, before being allowed to take part in the elections.

The party registration process at the justice ministry began in January and runs until October of this year. This process will be more complicated than during the last elections because of the larger number of political parties.

As a comparison, during the last general election in 1999, 141 parties registered with the ministry and 48 qualified to contest the polls.

The KPU, fearful that any delays will push back the general election, has urged the justice ministry to speed up the verification process.