Sat, 27 Mar 1999

Political parties urged to conduct 'smart campaigns'

JAKARTA (JP): Rather than simply relying on famous national political figures, who often are unknown to local constituents, political parties should pursue "smart campaigns" to introduce their legislative candidates and party programs, political analyst Andi A. Mallarangeng said on Thursday.

In a discussion held by the Centre for the Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here, Andi said he believed campaigning in this way could also help curb the violence predicted by many for the official campaign period from May 14 through June 4.

"It provides alternatives to the classic method of campaigning that favors street rallies and provokes sectarian sentiments," said Andi, who is a lecturer at Ujungpandang-based Hasanuddin University.

In the same discussion, CSIS deputy director J. Kristiadi repeated concerns that exploiting sectarian issues, such as ethnicity and religion, would lead to violence.

"But time is running out for campaigning that explores party platforms," Kristiadi commented on Andi's evaluation, adding that many parties still thought it tactically effective to exploit "traditional" issues.

Kristiadi and Andi were speaking at a special session on the competitive tactics used by parties to attract supporters, as part of a one-day seminar on the prospects for the June 7 elections and democratization in Indonesia.

Andi called on political parties -- particularly Golkar -- to accept the new "political landscape" that followed the passage of new political laws.

He warned the ruling Golkar Party that the use of ministers and other state officials in its campaign was an outdated strategy which to some extent could backfire on the party's interests.

"Playing with figures at the top level won't be effective at the local level ... as constituents want candidates they can shake hands with," he said.

The situation now is that voters are "retrospective", looking back to parties which they had earlier voted for, Andi said.

"Voters are not stupid," he said. "Clove farmers in South Sulawesi will not vote for Golkar, as ulema in Java will not vote for Muslim parties simply because they are the parties' traditional constituents."

"Farmers will look back to think what caused them to be miserable," Andi said, urging other parties to see the benefits of "creative campaigning" rather than simply parading in the streets.

Local issues

With political parties struggling to tackle "big issues", Andi said "everyday issues" had been left unexplored.

"This would mean the next government lack's legitimacy, despite a free and fair poll, as people would still ask 'where's our rice'."

As legislators elected to the House of Representatives will be those whose parties won the most votes in the province, political parties must campaign from now to introduce their local candidates and their programs for their prospective constituents.

"Create local heroes, do not simply rely on national figures," Andi said.

"Campaigning now is a matter of marketing strategy. Parties must be creative in their campaigning to attract potential buyers," he said.

Asked by senior political observer Hasnan Habib whether voters are ready for such "smart campaigns", Andi said: "That's exactly the old paradigm of thinking, in which people assume voters are stupid."

Potential voters understand their daily issues in their own language and they are "retrospective voters", he said. (aan)