Wed, 24 Mar 1999

KPU to indirectly bar ministers from campaigning

JAKARTA (JP): Political parties will be barred from recruiting government officials, including ministers, to campaign in the polls, a General Elections Commission (KPU) member said on Tuesday.

"The KPU has no authority to directly prohibit ministers from campaigning... because they are presidential aides," A.A. Oka Mahendra said after the commission's plenary session.

A ruling would have matched a 1999 law on general elections which bars political parties from using state facilities during the campaigns, Oka, a legal expert from the Ministry of Justice, said.

Oka said ministers should take unpaid leave if they wished to campaign.

The Election Supervisory Committee and independent monitoring bodies should closely observe the potential for official and ministerial abuse during campaigns scheduled from May 18 through June 4, he said.

Ramlan Surbakti, a political scientist from Airlangga University in Surabaya, said the KPU would have faced accusations of unfairness if it had directly banned ministers from campaigning.

"A ban would have been unfair and would have created a feeling of injustice among ministers because the KPU allows its members to campaign," he said in Surabaya, East Java, on Tuesday.

Ramlan, also an election supervisory committee member, said that the KPU had lost its legitimacy to oversee the general election.

"It is impossible for KPU members to play the roles of referees and players at the same time," he said.

The election body issued an internal ruling on Tuesday allowing its members to campaign for their parties and nominate themselves as legislators.

It was still debating the election code of conduct draft, which was expected to be passed on Wednesday.

Commission chairman Rudini denied members were divided regarding the code of conduct.

He said the commission faced many deliberations including drafting a commission budget, the registration of prospective voters and the listing of legislator candidates.

Separately, President B.J. Habibie said he would in principle allow ministers to campaign, provided they did not use state facilities.

"The President agrees that all ministers, with the exception of five ministers, may participate in the forthcoming campaigns, providing they do not use state facilities and disrupt their daily activities," Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung quoted Habibie as saying on Tuesday.

Akbar has insisted that ministers be allowed to campaign.

As well as Attorney General Andi Ghalib, the five ministers barred from campaigning are Coordinating Minister for Development Supervision and Administrative Reform Hartarto, Minister of Defense and Security/Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto, Minister of Justice Muladi and Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid.

Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, a former minister for environment, agreed with the ruling.

"In principle, there are no problems... but ministers should be barred from using state facilities and take unpaid leave during their campaign activities," he said in Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Tuesday.

Muchtar Pakpahan, chairman of the Advisory Board of the National Labor Party, said campaign conditions for officials, including ministers were not clear-cut.

"Officials cannot separate their personal interests from their positions," he said at a meeting in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan.

Political observer Eep Saefulloh Fatah, said because of the limited lead-up time to the June 7 polls, the election commission was working too slowly, which in turn might frustrate the election process.

"Some of the commission members do not fully comprehend broader concerns and tend to raise unimportant problems," he told Antara from Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday.

Eep and Andi A. Mallarangeng, a KPU member, were in Finland to observe elections.

Andi said the commission would provide cellular phones to almost all poll booths in Indonesia, to support the electoral process.

The KPU had found donators willing to fund the purchase of the phones, he said. (rms)