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Soeharto bans poll observers

Sydney Morning Herald - March 27, 1997

Louise Williams, Jakarta – The Indonesian Government has cancelled its invitation to foreign observers to monitor the May national elections, saying Indonesia will not be judged by foreign concepts of democracy.

The announcement was made by the Attorney-General and head of the Election Supervision Committee, Mr Singgih, after a meeting with President Soeharto. Earlier this month, the National Elections Institute said the Government "would invite neighbouring and foreign countries to monitor the elections".

However, Mr Singgih, quoted President Soeharto as saying: "Our Government is not inviting foreigners."

Mr Singgih said foreigners could still visit Indonesia during the elections but could not monitor the voting or counting process. "This is our democracy, we are a sovereign country, we have rules and laws, so there is no way Indonesia can be measured by a foreign yardstick," he said.

"If foreigners want to come here to watch, let them go ahead. But they cannot supervise because, according to our law, only we have the authority to supervise."

Mr Singgih's statement also refers to efforts by pro-democracy activists in Indonesia to establish an independent body to supervise voting. Pro-democracy activists here argue that the election process is flawed because the Soeharto Government has control of the entire process, from the vetting of candidates permitted to stand to the announcement of results.

Critics also say that the substantial resources of the Government - which are available to the ruling Golkar Party - as well as regulations which require public servants and their families and families of members of the armed forces to vote for Golkar mean alternative parties have little chance of success.

Mr Singgih said foreigners and members of the so-called Independent Election Monitoring Committee would not be permitted within the fenced area surrounding polling booths and would be banned from interviewing voters or scrutinising election documents. "If they enter the ring [inside the polling area], if they violate the laws, they will be clobbered," he said.

In Denpasar, Bali, a planned "long march" by supporters of the ousted pro-democracy leader, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, did not go ahead after the military banned the proposed week-long car rally from Bali to Jakarta.

Earlier, organisers said they would proceed despite the ban but riot police ringed the starting point and the offices of Ms Megawati's supporters from early yesterday morning. Ms Megawati had not endorsed the march, fearing it would provoke violent clashes between her supporters and security forces.

Ms Megawati was ousted from the leadership of the Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI) by a Government-sponsored rebel PDI conference last July and has since been banned from participating in the elections.