Wed, 31 Mar 1999

Habibie-KPU rift on election campaign to drag on

The Supreme Court, in response to a government appeal, has conveyed its legal opinion on the difference of perceptions between the government and the General Election Commission (KPU) on the latter's decisions related to election campaigns. Arbi Sanit, a University of Indonesia lecturer of political sciences, comments on its political impacts.

Question: The Supreme Court said that KPU had no right to regulate the role of ministers and state officials but it had the right to issue regulations barring political party members who work for the state from campaigning. What is your comment on such a statement?

Arbi: Such a decision is ambivalent because it means that both the President, as head of government, and the KPU are right, meaning that the President has the authority to control his Cabinet members and that KPU deserves the authority to regulate general elections (including the banning of political parties from recruiting government officials for campaigning).

The fact that the court has left the final decision to the President, who is in charge of the elections, indicates that the court is plin-plan (swaying with the wind, following whatever opinion is dominant) because it is not used to its judicial right to solve such a dispute. This will result in continuous conflicts between the two institutions.

Q: What do you think about the court's opinion that KPU members should not only be barred from campaigning but also from being elected as members of the House of Representatives (DPR)?

A: It is fair because KPU members, as election organizers, are supposed to be politically neutral. As a consequence of political parties acting as election organizers, their members involved in the commission must not take part in campaigning.

Q: Do you agree with the court's opinion that KPU was excessive with its decision on the planned establishment of an honor council for general elections?

A: The court is apparently tied to formal considerations in making such an opinion. Because the KPU was appointed by the President, it must also be responsible to him. If an honor council was established, his power over the commission would be cut off by the council.

I think the establishment of an honor council is politically important to support the nation's strong desire to have a free and fair general election because the authority of the President, as head of state, is very weak.

Q: Do you think the KPU members were emotional when they decided to bar ministers from campaigning?

A: Commission members were not emotional at all when they made the decision because they based their ruling on people's aspirations on political reform for fear of a repetition of previous election practices, in which officials used state facilities to campaign for their party.

Ministers, therefore, must be barred from campaigning until clear rules and adequate supervisory institutions are established to prevent them from abusing their authority.

Q: Now that most of Cabinet members belong to the ruling Golkar Party and that President B.J. Habibie relies heavily on the party's support for his presidential candidacy, will the court's legal opinion put him at odds with the party?

A: Golkar will surely pressure Habibie to mistakenly use his dual authority, both as head of state and as head of government. The party, for example, might see through on its deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman's warning that the party might withdraw its support for Habibie's presidential candidacy if he bars ministers from campaigning.

Q: The minister of justice said on Monday that the government would soon issue a ruling on whether or not Cabinet members and other government officials would be allowed to campaign. Will it help settle the dispute?

A: No, because such a regulation will be issued by the President as head of government, whose political level is the same as the KPU chairman. Both the head of government and KPU chairman should be responsible to the President as head of state.

Q: Some KPU members have threatened to resign if ministers are allowed to campaign. Will this happen?

A: It is too early to tell as they are supposed to go on fighting for the upholding of people's aspirations.

Q: Will the KPU-government dispute delay the schedule for general election activities?

A: I don't think so. This dispute can be settled through the forming of public opinion until the time prior to the campaigning period -- on May 15 until June 4. Meanwhile, the schedules for other election activities, including preparations, can go ahead.

Q: Will the public get angry if the government forces its will on people by allowing ministers to take leave for campaigning?

A: Yes, because they feel strongly about power abuses such as instances in the past general elections.

It might not be university students but political party supporters who hit the streets to demonstrate, which could be very fierce.

University students seem to be reluctant to demonstrate now because they are not so enthusiastic about the general election, which they think is not legitimate on the grounds that it is being organized by an illegitimate government. (riz)