Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Public unaware of election preparations

Arya Abhiseka The Jakarta Post Jakarta

Winarto, a public minivan driver plying the Kebayoran Lama-Tanah Abang route, was obviously baffled when asked if he was ready to register for the 2004 general elections.

"Elections? This Tuesday? No, I didn't know that registration was so soon," Winarto, 32, told The Jakarta Post early this week.

Udin, 22, a janitor at a film company in Central Jakarta, said that he had no idea yet of the time line or the mechanism of next year's general election.

"I am not familiar with the entire process of the next year's general election," he said.

The National Elections Commission (KPU) had decided to start voter registration for next year's elections on April 1, 2003. The commission said earlier that there were around 130 million eligible voters around the country.

Sadly, however, not too many people are aware of the time line set by KPU, and according to Hadar Gumay from the Center for Electoral Reform (CETRO), members of the House of Representatives (DPR) are to blame for that.

"I do not blame it entirely on KPU as the whole process has some flaws. The House was very slow in deliberating the election bill," Hadar told the Post on Tuesday.

The House endorsed the election bill only at the end of February, far behind the original schedule of November 2002. The delay had prevented the commission from making early election preparations.

According to KPU member Imam B. Prasodjo, the delay had made it impossible for the commission to set an election date and prepare the public service announcement to raise people's awareness of the upcoming general elections.

"We could not decide on the public service announcement as the general elections law was endorsed late," Imam said.

KPU has set April 5, 2004 as the date for the legislative election, with the presidential elections scheduled to take place between June and August.

During a seminar on Local Radio Network for Democracy, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) here on Tuesday, experts warned KPU that it had done a poor job in communicating the mechanism for the general election.

"Local radios must be more proactive in taking charge in providing information on the general election to the public. We cannot rely on KPU alone," said media expert Riza Primadi.

Hadar warned that poor preparations might steer people away from participating in the elections as the public had become more critical and aware of the country's political condition.

"Politicians and political parties have proven that they have not responded to people's aspirations, making the people more skeptical and indifferent toward the general election," he said.

CETRO, according to Hadar, had predicted that election abstentionism would account for between 18 percent and 19 percent of the total 130 million voters in the next elections, a sharp increase from 1999's elections of 9.5 percent.

Meanwhile, President Megawati Soekarnoputri urged KPU on Friday to stand firm by its decisions, saying that the success of elections depended on KPU's resoluteness.

"KPU should be firm and consistent about whatever decisions it has taken," KPU deputy chairman Ramlan Surbakti quoted Megawati as saying during their meeting on Friday.