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Students' poll shows growing protest vote

South China Morning Post - April 12, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – Students at one of the most prestigious state-run universities are expected to join the swelling ranks of protest voters at the May 29 election, according to a recent poll.

The university senate survey of 500 students at the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Central Java, found 36.6 per cent would cast a blank protest vote. The campus has 32,000 students.

Blank voting is known as golput in Indonesia.

"This is the political attitude of many students. We cannot take part in an election where there is no fair play and no independent monitoring," said Prabowo, a student leader at the university.

More radical students at the university have called for a total boycott of the election, which they claim is orchestrated by the Government.

"We don't just want to golput, we want a total boycott," said Mr Prabowo, one of 32 students arrested in early April for holding two days of anti-election demonstrations at the campus.

President Suharto and leading military figures have warned of action against anyone urging a poll boycott.

A group of activists from the People's Democratic Party who called on Indonesians to boycott the elections are now standing trial on subversion charges. The leader of that group, Budiman Sudjatmiko, was a former student activist at the university.

But poll watchers say golput is a political right.

"It's not illegal, you have the right not to vote in Indonesia," said Johannes Princen, human rights lawyer and co-author of a report on procedural violations in the 1992 elections.

Analysts predict a golput vote of about 10 per cent as supporters from the Indonesian Democracy Party and the Muslim-backed United Development Party protest against alleged government interference in their parties. The Jakarta Administrative Court has rejected a lawsuit by ousted Indonesian Democracy Party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri challenging her interrogation by police about a gathering at her home, her lawyer said yesterday.