Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Young people reluctant to exercise right to vote

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Youth leaders pledged on Wednesday that they and fellow activists would not vote in next year's general elections, because they could not expect any fundamental changes in public welfare.

The activists represented the Student Action Front for Reform and Democracy (Famred), the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI), the Democratic People's Party (PRD), the July 27 Youth Organization (GP 27 Juli) and Government Watch (GOWA).

"We don't believe in next year's general elections, as the political parties that will contest it are the legacy of the New Order regime, which was corrupt to the core," PRD chairman Haris Rusli Moti said at a discussion here.

He said all major political parties that were likely to win the poll only sought to gain more power and seats at the House of Representatives (DPR) by taking advantage of uneducated voters.

Yonas from Famred shared Haris' view, saying that five years after the start of the reform movement, youths had become disillusioned by the fact that the country was still run by corrupt leaders.

The biggest political party is even chaired by a convict in a corruption case, he said, referring to the Golkar Party under Akbar Tandjung, who is also House Speaker. Akbar is appealing against the guilty verdict handed down in a graft case involving funds belonging to the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

"I am afraid the 2004 general elections would only bring about the resurgence of the New Order regime," Yonas said.

Andy W. Syahputra of GOWA said there had been growing resentment against political parties because of their apparent lack of concern for the poor.

"I have seen evictees tearing down the flags of all political parties flying in their neighborhood to show their disgust over the parties' inability to stop the evictions," he said.

The campaign period for the general elections has not yet begun, but political parties have started raising their flags and banners in a number of areas.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has registered around 145 million eligible voters nationwide, of which 25 percent are first-time voters.

Though politicians are upbeat about their potential votes, a small group, mostly consisting of urban dwellers and educated people, has been campaigning for absenteeism at the 2004 general elections.

There is no ban against not voting, but General Elections Law No. 12/2003 stipulates that the use of violence or the threat of violence to obstruct voters from casting ballots is punishable by up to 12 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rp 10 million.

KPU member Mulyana W. Kusumah said the proportion of young people who declined to vote in the coming election would likely increase, given the pessimistic view of the poll's outcome.

"The KPU has found that 80 percent of the central board members of political parties are politicians carrying over from the New Order regime, and reform is the last thing on their minds," he said.