Thu, 25 Mar 1999

KPU bars ministers from campaigning

JAKARTA (JP): The General Elections Commission (KPU) voted on Wednesday in favor of banning government officials, including Cabinet ministers, from campaigning for parties contesting the June 7 general election.

A total of 46 votes were in favor of the ban and 22 against.

KPU chairman Rudini said nine of the commission's 53 members were not in attendance. The voting system is weighted according to members' affiliation, with each government representative's vote equivalent to nine votes.

Among those absent were government representatives Andi Mallarangeng, who is still in Finland after observing its parliamentary elections, and Adnan Buyung Nasution.

One of the government representatives in attendance endorsed the ban, according to Rudini.

"All sides should respect this decision which was made in a democratic manner," Rudini said after the vote.

Sanctions against parties which violate election rules range from reprimands to disqualification.

The ruling barring ministers from campaigning is part of the KPU code of conduct to be endorsed on Thursday. It states that political parties are barred from involving state officials, Armed Forces (ABRI) personnel and members of the civil service in the election campaign. Included in the ban are Cabinet ministers, governors, regents, mayors and their deputies.

The issue has been a sticking point in the commission's deliberations. Some, including Minister of Justice Muladi, argue it does not have the authority to restrict ministers' activities.

President B.J. Habibie has banned five of 36 Cabinet ministers and the attorney general from campaigning.

"I don't know anything about the government decision. What I know all about is KPU, because it deals with the rules of the game for political parties, not the government or ministers," said Rudini, a former minister of home affairs.

The ban will deal a major blow to the ruling Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP) because many of their leaders and members are in the Cabinet or state institutions.

Golkar against

Meanwhile, Golkar deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that the party would have to review its political stance toward the Cabinet if President Habibie showed inconsistency by accepting the KPU decision.

"When Golkar supported the rights of civil servants (to join political parties) as a matter of principle, at the very last moment Habibie reversed his policy and somewhat left us out in the cold," Marzuki said of a new government regulation.

"Based on that experience, we would not like to find ourselves in a similar situation with regard to whether it is proper for ministers to campaign."

He said Habibie should not be cowed by external lobbying.

"As far as Golkar is concerned on Habibie, it is that he consistently pursue a line of policy that is not changed because of pressure from outside or from his circle of advisers," he said.

"... if (Habibie) were to ride on the popular issue that ministers are prohibited from campaigning at the expense of the party, then we will strongly object."

He said inconsistency would "adversely affect the position of two main political parties (Golkar and the PPP) that are supportive of his Cabinet".

"Our issue is with Habibie and not with the KPU because if they want to come out with the recommendation (to ban ministers from campaigning), it is fine with us."

But he added that he personally understood the concerns of groups opposed to ministers' campaigning. "The traumatic experience in the past justifies the apprehension that allowing ministers to campaign would lead to the possibility of conflict of interests and misuse of government facilities for parties and politics."

Meanwhile, Muladi emphasized that the commission did not hold the authority to determine whether ministers were allowed to campaign.

"The law only authorized KPU to determine the election code of conduct and campaign schedule," Muladi said after attending a House of Representatives plenary session.

"It is up to the President and political parties to forbid ministers from campaigning."

Muladi said the public should not be suspicious of ministers who wished to campaign.

"This is part of a democratic process. People know what is right or wrong. The most important thing for the ministers is to understand the code of ethics and not abuse state facilities."

Muladi said he would recommend to Habibie that ministers be permitted to campaign on nonwork days. (byg/edt/rms)