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Indonesian poll monitoring team ready for May 29

Straits Times - March 4, 1997

S N Vasuki – Indonesia's parliamentary election on May 29 has entered a decisive phase with an independent election committee preparing to monitor the polls and a leading opposition party threatening to ignore tough government restrictions on campaigning.

Gunawan Mohammad, chairman of the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP), told foreign journalists in Jakarta yesterday that the organisation expects to monitor the May polls in nine major cities.

"As KIPP is poorly funded, we have had to scale down our ambitions," Mr Gunawan said. "But we have been trying to learn from similar agencies in the Philippines, Bangladesh and Egypt." He added that his "personal objective" was to ensure that people who did not want to vote were not harassed by the authorities.

Senior government officials have criticised the setting up of KIPP, saying that an independent poll monitoring agency was unnecessary. However, Mr Gunawan said that KIPP's objective remained relevant.

"Our main aim is to purify the idea of an election," he said. "In the absence of a proper electoral process, people are resorting to other means to achieve their objective." But, Mr Gunawan, who was editor-in-chief of the banned Tempo magazine acknowledged that it would take KIPP several years to establish its influence. Meanwhile, the opposition United Development Party (PPP) has startled political observers by threatening to ignore the government's strict election campaigning rules. Last December, the government announced tough new regulations allowing for 27 days of official campaigning.

However, in a unique revolving system the country's three political groupings – the ruling Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and the United Development Party (PPP) – are only allowed nine days each of official campaigning. Moreover campaign materials slated to appear on state television and radio must be submitted to the authorities a week in advance and political parties are not allowed to hold outdoor campaign rallies.

PPP chairman Ismail Hasan Metareum told local media that his party planned to ignore the election campaign rules unless they were revised. "We will continue our struggle to urge the government to improve the election rules," he said. "Until that happens, the PPP will resort to other methods like door-to-door campaigning to promote our cause." The PPP also released a statement saying that the new rules restricted public participation and adversely affected all the political parties.

Analysts attributed the PPP's hardball tactics as a shrewd move to score political points ahead of the polls. In the 1992 parliamentary elections, the ruling Golkar had secured a reduced 68 per cent of the national vote, while the PPP won 17 per cent and the PDI 15 per cent.

"The PDI is in disarray after the ouster of Megawati Sukarnoputri," said a western diplomat yesterday. "So PPP leaders are taking this confrontational position in order to woo PDI voters into their fold." He added that PDI's current leadership was extremely unpopular with voters because of the circumstances that led to the exit of Ms Megawati last year.