NGOs seek support through mass media
By Joko E. Anwar
JAKARTA (JP): Legislators and employees of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) office were reportedly annoyed when hundreds of forms kept coming through their facsimile machines.
They can probably expect many more until the scheduled Assembly session in August.
The forms saying "Yes! I agree to a direct presidential election!" turned out to be from the Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro).
The non-government organization, along with 12 other groups, organized the campaign seeking support for a direct presidential election in the 2004 general elections.
They've published a pro-direct election advertisement that occupies a whole page of the May 15 edition of Tempo weekly news magazine. The ad can also be found in the May 15 editions of Kompas, Jawa Pos, Pikiran Rakyat, and other national publications.
Beneath photographs of Indonesia's three former presidents and President Abdurrahman Wahid, the text of the ad begins, "Of these four presidents, not one was elected directly by the people."
A form is provided in the ad so that readers can state their support and fax the slips to fax numbers at either MPR or Cetro.
MPR's mailing address is also provided.
Yoyok Prakoso, Cetro's director of advocacy, said that the strategy was drawn from experience.
"We learned that if we collected the statements of support first and then handed them to MPR, they wouldn't bother to look at them," Yoyok said on Saturday.
He was referring to Cetro's efforts in gathering public support for an open presidential ballot among MPR members last October when MPR decided to conduct a closed presidential ballot.
Among the participating NGOs in the campaign are the Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP), the Indonesian Coalition of Women, the Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), and the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI).
Rp 600 million had been allocated to the campaigns.
The funds were obtained from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Another Cetro activist, Hadar Gumay, said, "Making a petition through the mass media is better than gathering a lot of people for street rallies."
He said a rally could be used by a third party to create riots.
While people have welcomed freedom of expression since Soeharto stepped down in 1998, excesses like the closing of toll roads and rioting have led to little sympathy for protesters.
Readers meanwhile showed mixed reactions to the new campaign.
An avid reader of Kompas, Adamsyah Wahab, said that he supported the relatively new way of gaining public support, saying it "makes people look at things more intelligently."
"I'll send the form in," he said.
Tempo reader Nurul Ayu Kesuma said that while she supported the campaign, she was less enthusiastic about sending in the form.
KIPP activist Mulyana W. Kusumah said that the public, which now had sufficient political awareness, was ready for a direct presidential election.
Such a mechanism would be enacted by an amendment in the 1945 constitution.
The constitution rules that a president is invariably elected by members of MPR.
The campaign, Mulyana added, will try to add increasing pressure to MPR's ad hoc committee which is assigned to make amendments in the constitution.
They are expected to include the policy of direct presidential elections in their amendments, and Mulyana wants to make sure they follow through and actually draw up the amendment before 2004.
According to Yoyok, last Friday almost 1,000 forms of support had been faxed to MPR.
"We already received complaints from MPR leaders through their public relations officials about the incoming faxes to their offices," Yoyok said.
Regardless of complaints, the public should be free to use the fax numbers, he said.
Hadar said that Cetro would change the fax numbers on the forms, replacing them with MPR's public relations office fax number, because the fax numbers in the MPR's leaders' offices had already been turned off.
Hadar said that the campaign would run several more times in the print media, until the MPR general session in August.
Some radio versions of the campaign were being made, he added.
An activist from the City Network (Jarkot), Mariole, said, however, that street rallies were still much more effective in sending a message to the government and MPR.
"(Campaign through mass media) won't replace the role of street rallies," Mariole told the Post.
Rallies put stronger pressure on government legislators to change their policies, he added.