Opinion leaders say the Indonesian government's plan to invite foreign observers to monitor the implementation of the 1997 general election is a progressive step, which will not only improve the country's image abroad but also encourage us to carry out an honest, fair and democratic election.
"It indicates that general elections in Indonesia are carried out openly and not hampered by any principle problems," said Mulyana W. Kusumah, executive director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).
Mulyana said, however, that such facility which is accorded foreign observers should also be made available to domestic watchdogs, such as the Independent Electoral Monitoring Committee (KIPP).
"I say, the same opportunity should be offered to foreign and domestic observers alike," said Mulyana, who is also KIPP secretary general.
Mulyana was commenting on a recent statement by Internal Affairs Minister Yogie Suardi Memet that the government has a plan to invite foreign observers from neighboring countries to monitor the polling of the 1997 general election.
The plan promptly solicits endorsement from the military. Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander General Feisal Tanjung claims he has no objection to the presence of foreign observers during the May 29 polling.
"If there are foreign observers who are interested in seeing Indonesia's general election process, why not?" Tanjung was quoted as saying.
Analysts note, however, that the move does not guarantee a fair general election. Mohammad Budyatna, dean of the state University of Indonesia in Jakarta, said that the government should go further and let all three political groups contesting the general election control the flow of tallied ballots from the polling booths up to the national election committee.
"The transparency would help the government and the ruling party dispel any suspicion of cheating," the Jakarta Post quoted Budyatna as saying.
Asmara Nababan, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), seconded Budyatna's suggestion.
"They (the political groups) have the right to demand transparency because they are the ones contesting the election," Nababan said.
In concur with Mulyana, Nababan also believes that the government should give priority to Indonesian citizens to monitor the polls as "the presence of an independent watchdog is required to guarantee the polls are run fairly and honestly."
Nababan's comment implies criticism of the government, which has warned KIPP under the chairmanship of Gunawan Mohammad, the editor of the now-banned Tempo weekly news magazine, against intervening in ballot counting. In principle, the three political groups contesting the general election agree with the plan to invite foreign observers. Yusuf Syakir, vice chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), welcomes the government plan but asserts that no other bodies but the political groups themselves would be able to monitor the process of election effectively.
"Neither foreign observers nor independent bodies have enough resources to monitor the polls," said Syakir.
Meanwhile, ruling Golkar Chairman Harmoko advises the foreign observers to first study the value system of the Pancasila Democracy and avoid imposing the norms of liberal democracy.
"They should abide by the laws and regulations adopted in Indonesia," said Harmoko, who is also Minister of Information.
By that (study) mechanism, Harmoko claims, the results of their monitoring may give the proper perspectives of general elections' function to channel the people's political rights as understood by the country's constitutional system. On this regard, Harmoko's advice gets support from a member of the independent Komnas HAM.
Prof. Dr. Muladi, who is also rector of the Semarang-based Diponegoro University in Central Java, emphasizes that the foreign observers should not impose their own cultural values or the international standard.
"Otherwise, their works won't be of any use," Muladi said.
The university rector also suggests that the observers should come from countries which do not have any principle problems with Indonesia and they themselves do not have the tendency to underrate Indonesia in international forums.
On the other side of the hedge, some opinion leaders express disagreement about the plan to invite foreign observers.
"Personally, I don't agree to outsiders monitoring our domestic affairs... there is no need for us to follow the examples of other countries," said Dr. Juwono Soedarsono, Deputy Governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas). Juwono expresses concern that the opportunity might be exploited to voice baseless grudges on the implementation of general elections in Indonesia, thus raising polemics about the results of election. Outspoken Minister of Transmigration Siswono Yudo-husodo says Indonesia does not need foreigners to monitor the country's election.
"We are capable of monitoring ourselves. The general elections we have conducted in the past went well. We don't need foreign supervisors," Yudohusodo said.
According to Yudohusodo, inviting foreign supervisors may give the impression that we have something to hide.
"Inviting foreign supervisors may imply that our past elections were rife with manipulation, while they were not. Besides, what if the foreigners then conduct investigations and meddle in the voting. It's not good at all," he said.
Observers, not supervisors
At this point, the Ministry of Internal Affairs gives an assertion that those invited are not supervisors, but observers who have no rights of investigation.
"The press has given the perception that those invited are supervisors which connotes investigation, but they are not," said Sutoyo NK, the ministry's director general for social and political supervision.
According to Sutoyo, there is nothing wrong with the foreign guests observing the campaigns and the polls as long as they are not investigating, which some people interpret as interfering in the domestic affairs of our country.
"As citizens, we don't welcome other people investigating our country," Sutoyo said. These foreign observers, Sutoyo said, are in principle the same as those who have been invited by some other countries. When Malaysia or Singapore carried out their general elections, observers from Indonesia were invited.
"And they were not investigating, but just observing," said Sutoyo.
The director general stresses that the presence of these observers should be viewed from the spirit of the issue, namely the spirit of the Indonesian government to give the opportunity to other countries to get to know how the Indonesian government organizes the general election.
"So, what counts is the spirit of our nation carrying out the general election under the observation by other countries," Sutoyo said. (EBRI/ss)