Thu, 25 Dec 2003

Govt needs to prevent conflicts in 2004 elections

Ignas Kleden Sociologist Director Center for East Indonesian Affairs Jakarta

The upcoming 2004 elections is a new political venture. It is new not only in its goal to enable direct election at all levels, but also in terms of its preparation. The preparatory stages are intended to enable voters to select from among 24 parties -- those supposedly eligible because of administrative fit and factual readiness.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has taken care of the administrative verification, whereas the empirical examination of the factual existence and performance of a political party has been conducted by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

The approval of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights recognizes a political party as a legal entity, while the KPU's approval verifies a political party as a contender in the general elections.

The opening up of the political scene since the 1998 political reform seems to have called many -- or too many -- parties into existence. Initially, there were no less than 112 political parties registered at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Among these, only 84 parties had undergone administrative verification, resulting in 50 legally acknowledged parties.

Among these 50, six parties were automatically considered legal entities because they had passed the electoral threshold, while the remaining 44 had to undergo further administrative verification. Finally, after empirical and factual examination by the KPU, 24 political parties were declared fit to contest the 2004 general elections.

Needless to say, the exclusion of 26 parties from the general elections has brought about dissatisfaction and protests. However, these protests are highly unlikely to change the results of the factual examination.

The KPU is required to respond to these protests and must make it very clear that the exclusions are justified in accordance with the rules and regulations of the verification procedure.

Potential conflicts that might arise from such dissatisfaction can be reduced, provided that the KPU's response provides a clear explanation as to why those 26 parties did not meet the minimum requirements to contest the general elections.

Questions might arise as to whether these parties met the requirement of territorial distribution -- the quota of represented provinces and regencies -- as well as of demographic representation, as each party branch at the regental level should have at least 1,000 resident members or a membership comprising at least 1/1,000 of the regental population.

The increasing importance of territorial distribution and demographics in recognizing a political party as a legal entity and bestowing it with the right to contest the general elections can be a potential source of social conflict.

In this regard, the potential for conflict seems to stem from the proliferation of provinces. Provinces across Indonesia now number 32, including the most recently established provinces of the Riau Islands and West Irian Jaya. The Jakarta government seems to assume that the formation of these new provinces has been settled without any problems.

This is obviously an overestimation, because there are still some problems with the formation of new provinces. The province of West Irian Jaya is a case in point, since the formation of this province has caused the local people to question the reasons behind its establishment. There is a brewing tension between locals supporting and opposing the new province, which certainly influences the general attitude of the area toward the central government.

This issue has some consequences for the preparation of the elections. The first problem is that the number of represented provinces includes those provinces whose formation has raised controversy among the locals.

This, in turn, compounds the difficulties facing the KPU, which must establish its provincial and regental branches according to a set time frame. Establishing such branch offices, however, can be construed by the locals as confirming the existence of the disputed province.

This problem with the KPU aside, special attention should be paid to local conditions so that preparations for the general elections does not become an occasion for horizontal conflicts among the locals -- who might have different opinions about the new political set-up while not having sufficient opportunity to speak their minds. The government, both central and regional, should give more attention to this issue and settle it before the elections.

Political innovations introduced in the coming elections will presumably bring with it new problems. It is better to anticipate and mitigate these problems before they escalate into real conflicts. Provided that we are willing to keep our eyes and hearts open to such possibilities, we can settle them without too many difficulties and without the high costs that entail a social conflict.