Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Independent KPU assures good governance: Observers

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia requires an independent elections commission to promote good governance and prevent money politics, members of the International Electoral Management Bodies said during a seminar here on Thursday.

Visiting members of the international organization said an independent elections commission should not include a role for the government because that would create conflicts of interest. They also said monoloyalty to the commission was the norm among its members.

The speakers at the seminar were members or former members of general elections commissions in their home countries. Gothom Arya of Thailand, Jose Woldenberg of Mexico, Brigalia Bam of South Africa and T.S. Trishnamurty of India were invited to share their experiences during the seminar, jointly organized by the Centre for Strategic International Studies and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

"In my country, up until 1988 the government was responsible for the running of general elections. But since we found some violations, including against the principle of impartiality, had taken place, we established a fully independent commission in 1999," Woldenberg said.

Brigalia Bam said the entire recruitment process for the election commission members in South Africa was conducted by the commission to maintain its freedom from the interests of political parties and the government.

"We ourselves interview the candidates for the commission. We determine the recruitment system and choose who fits the seats in the commission.

"Our people do not believe that government officials or ministers can organize general elections without losing their loyalty to the ruling party," Bam said.

There has been much debate in the House of Representatives over the government's intention to maintain the tradition of appointing the secretary-general of the General Elections Commission (KPU). The House has unanimously agreed to keep the government out of the commission.

Observers have expressed fear that the government's involvement in the KPU will cost the commission its independence.

The 17 members of the commission were selected by the House.

The KPU is widely regarded as powerless since it failed to bring to court violations committed during the 1999 general election, despite accounts from the public that almost all of the political parties contesting the elections committed offenses.

The current electoral law threatens punishments ranging from a ban on contesting the next elections to the dissolution of parties for violations. The House is debating a new bill to replace the 1999 electoral law.

A group of non-governmental organizations and minor parties filed with the Supreme Court last year their accounts of violations committed by the Golkar Party during the least elections. The legal action, however, failed.

"In my country, there is a constitutional court which has the authority to try election violations and decide penalties for errant parties," Gothom said.