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Opposition parties cry foul over rules for upcoming elections

Unknown - February 1997

Sarah Smith – Opposition parties held rallies in early January to protest against the conditions under which this year's parliamentary elections will be held. Most parties will be excluded altogether from the vote, scheduled for 29 May.

The government of President Soeharto introduced a series of electioneering rules in December, designed to limit candidature and to restrict the manner of campaigning. One of the most stringent measures concerns political broadcasts during the official campaign period, which runs from 29 April until 23 May.

In apparent contravention of an all-party consensus not to censor campaign material, live campaign speeches and discussions are to be subject to script approval before being broadcast on either the state-owned TVR1 channel or any of the country's five private television stations. The government has dismissed opposition criticism of the new ruling, which it says is a 'technicality' designed to preserve election ethics and avoid name-calling on the air.

Other measures include a tightly controlled election schedule which will oblige the three competing parties to campaign in pre-designated areas and at set times. The opposition United Development Party (PPP) has threatened to withdraw over this rule, which it believes favours Soeharto's Golkar party. The PPP also fear their limited budget may prohibit them from following the schedule, which may requires parties to campaign in two towns in one day.

Only three parties are permitted to contest the elections – the Golkar, the PPP and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) – and even these are subject to government sanctions. Known supporters of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was ousted as leader of the PDI by the government last year, have been excluded from the General Election Institute's approved list of PDI candidates, while Megawati herself has been warned that she will not be permitted to stage rallies during the election period. She will also be abnned from staging her own campaign.

A clampdown on political dissent is expected to coincide with pre-election manoeuvring. Thirteen opposition activists are currently standing trial under Indonesia's harsh anti-subversion law for their alleged involvement in the Jakarta riots of June 1996. Early this year one of the government's most virulent critics, ex-legislator Sri Bintang Pamungkas, had his 34-month sentence for defamation upheld. He is expecting to be in jail by the time the elections come round.