Sat, 21 Feb 2004

KPU told to start educating voters

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The success of the upcoming polls remains a big question, as the General Elections Commission (KPU) has focused more on the procurement of election materials and thus ignored voter education.

Politicians Andi A. Mallarangeng and Ferry Mursyidan Baldan from the United Democratic Nationhood Party (PPDK) and the Golkar Party, respectively, warned that the KPU's neglect would lead to a great number of invalid ballots.

Andi and Ferry said the nation would rely on the KPU to educate voters, as political parties could only disseminate electoral information to party members.

"We cannot reach the silent majority, because on the one occasion we did, we were accused of conducting a premature campaign," Andi said at a discussion on Friday.

Also speaking at the discussion was Kutai Kertanegara Regent Syaukani H.R., who chairs the Association of Regional Administrations.

A recent survey conducted by the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro) revealed that most respondents were unaware of the election rules and how to cast their ballots.

Ferry, deputy chairman of House Commission II for political and security affairs, suggested that the KPU commence voter education soon, as the general election was just 46 days away.

He appreciated the efforts by the office of the State Minister of Women's Empowerment to improve women's representation in politics by calling on women voters to punch only the name of women legislative candidates.

However, he also corrected the instruction: "That is wrong, because voters must punch both a party logo and a legislative candidate."

Andi and Ferry criticized the KPU for spending too much of its time procuring ballot boxes, ballot papers and ink for the elections.

"I feel ballot boxes are not essential, because they can be replaced with wooden boxes or buckets," Andi said.

The KPU, he said, was responsible for familiarizing the public on the new electoral system, either by banners or advertisements.

Syaukani H.R. confirmed that people living in remote areas were confused about polling procedures.

Having conducted several polling simulations in rural areas, Syaukani said many people did not even know the logo of their preferred party.

"Without detailed explanations from the KPU, it will be difficult for people to follow the correct procedure," he said.

Syaukani also asked the KPU to issue guidelines for its provincial and regental branch offices on preparing a contingency plan in case the delivery of election materials was disrupted.

In Kutai, for example, he said, the distribution of election materials would take much time because of its geography, and that many areas in the regency could only be reached by boat, which would take additional delivery time.