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'After the cooling-off week'

Kathleen J. Brahney - April 18-May 28, 1997

Independent Media Indonesia opined (5/28): "During this cooling-off week, as we ponder programs and campaigners, it is difficult to draw logical conclusions. What stays in mind is only the unrest. However, there is nothing we can do. As bad as the political parties may be...we must vote for one as better than the others."

"Golkar's Evaluation Of The Election Campaign"

Ruling Golkar Party's Suara Karya determined (5/28): "It is inevitable that the next election campaign be refined so that the people can have a greater appreciation of political platforms. As society becomes more informed, public enthusiasm to vote will be determined by each party's program. Without improvement, it could be difficult to maintain a 90 percent voter turnout."

"We Are All Concerned Over Riots In Banjarmasin"

Leading independent Kompas analyzed the riots in Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, as follows (5/27): "If the riots in Banjarmasin really did claim 133 lives, this incident will have taken the greatest toll of the succession of riots. The death toll and damaged buildings have raised grave concerns.... The riots were prompted by numerous issues...including social, political, economic, and sociological gaps. Ineffective control in the free market era has caused people, especially those in power, to become corrupt and insensitive.... Not all problems can be solved by practical means. Many social issues can also be settled by humanitarian concern and affection.... Unity within the elite is necessary, along with transparency and responsiveness."

"Banjarmasin Tragedy"

The leading, independent Jakarta Post asserted (5/27): "In the present rigid political system, the campaign period has become a time to let off steam. Campaign time is the only chance people have every five years to air their grievances. Tightening the campaign rules, as the government tried to do this year, only deprived the people of that opportunity. From what we saw of this year's campaign, there is a lot of pent-up rage that, under the present system, could only be channeled through violence. The Banjarmasin tragedy has given the nation plenty to reflect on, as well as plenty of homework. But the nation's biggest task now is to find a more appropriate political system that is democratic and less prone to violence."

"Banjarmasin Disaster"

An assessment of Muslim intellectual Republika held (5/27): "The parties used issues of corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement to attract voters. However, they did not take responsibility for the exploration of these issues. The parties did not provide political education for the masses. On the contrary, they maintained the people's political ignorance."

"Grief In Banjarmasin"

Independent Media Indonesia wondered (5/26): "Are the recent incidents the result of a conspiracy or is it that something is going wrong in our society?"

"The Golput Phenomenon"

The leading, independent Jakarta Post concluded (5/26): "It is unfortunate that some campaigners have, knowingly or not, resorted to intimidation to get people to vote. Several campaigners have branded those who do not vote as opponents of the Pancasila (the official state philosophy) political system, or as 'free riders' in national development. Others have said those who vote are 'good citizens' and those who don't are 'bad citizens.' One could counter-argue that good citizens are those who abide by the law, pay taxes and refrain from any form of corruption, which all parties, judging by their campaign slogans, agree is a malady in our country." "Understanding The Background And Causes Of Unrest"

Leading, independent Kompas put forth this analysis (5/23) in an editorial: "Though intolerable, it is understandable that the feelings about sovereignty and freedom that emerge once every five years have kindled the courage to express long-suppressed dissatisfaction. Such circumstances raise the potential for riots and violence. If we follow this theory, then, preventing riots and violence would necessitate greater room for the people to believe that sovereignty is in their hands."

"Taking A Lesson From The 1997 Campaign"

Under the above headline, Armed Forces' Angkatan Bersenjata maintained (5/23): "The three parties were required to compete to raise the public's political awareness. It is a shame that that never happened. What stood out were the promises made only to buy votes.... The same themes were used as in campaigns past, with no action plans to support them. Thus, the campaigns were not able to placate the public. Contestants have promised to eradicate corruption and collusion, but corruption and collusion are increasing rather than declining."

"What Dialogues Are For"

The leading, independent Jakarta Post took this position (5/23): "If anything good has come out of the political dialogues that have characterized this year's campaign, it is this: we know this country has a dearth of truly great politicians to represent the people for the next five years. Whether at indoor meetings or on television, most of these dialogues have been flat, which to a large extent is a reflection of the quality of the candidates for the House of Representatives.... To make future campaign dialogues a more effective and meaningful political communication and education process, the entire electoral system must be reviewed.... In the meantime, it looks like we have to contend with untested second-rate politicians to represent us for the next five years. That is hardly comforting as we move into the 21st century, but we are stuck with them because the system says so."

"Taking A Lesson From Critical Foreign Newscasts"

The government-oriented Indonesian Observer published this op-ed piece (5/23) by former Foreign Minister Roeslan Abdulgani: "In the midst of the thundering general election campaign this year, we have...heard repeated complaints from the people at large about the behavior, arrogance (and) dishonesty...from forces that are eager to win the general elections through coercion and intimidation...especially from the established forces. We see this also as a reflection of the decline of morality in the social intercourse of a nation that has the Pancasila as its ideology. No wonder that there was a subsequent reaction."

"Liberal Democracy"

The government-oriented Indonesian Observer ran these observations (5/15) in an op-ed piece by Desi Anwar: "It is a curious thing that the more democratic a country is...the more rules there are around and the more disciplined an individual has to be.... For those unused to this concept of real democracy, particularly liberal democracy, the tendency is to view...democracy as undesirable because it allows people to do what they want without regarding other people's wishes or the consequences of one's actions; in other words, the overemphasis on individual rights that can undermine the collective rights. This of course, is nonsense.... Liberal democracy, far from being what authoritarian governments consider as excessive and irresponsible freedom, is actually the curbing of individual freedom for the sake of social responsibility and the common good. Democracy is about rules, regulations, the law, discipline and limits. If anything, democracy is not about freedom but about control, including the control of oneself. In a truly democratic society every individual is responsible for regulating his/her own actions while at the same time being limited by the confines of the law and the codes of social behavior."

"Violence Highlights The Campaign"

In an op-ed piece in the leading, independent Jakarta Post, Arief Budiman asserted (5/15): "We can identify two characteristics of the present campaign: no tolerance for others and violence as the language of present politics.... Let me contrast this situation with one that exists in the West.... People in the United States are used to having different opinions on any issue.... Different opinions are not only tolerated but are always sought after. It has become a basic need of people, just like food....[whereas in Indonesia], people have learned that if you want to play politics, you have to use power and violence, not intellectual arguments. This is surely not good news for the future of Indonesia's democracy. The basic foundation of democracy, namely the culture of tolerance, is not only absent, but is being hindered by the government itself. The July 27 drama, the sentencing of Mochtar Pakpahan, Sri Bintang Pamungkas and PRD [People's Democratic Party] leaders, and the treatment of Megawati and her PDI party are all good examples for people that, if you have power and can use violence, you can do anything."

"The 'Mega-Bintang' Phenomenon"

Leading, independent Kompas judged (5/14): "High-level officials campaigning for Golkar now have the opportunity to give speeches that arouse the emotions. Without such campaigns no one would listen to them. The crowd actually prefers to dance to live singers.... There have been no true dialogues, debates, or anything that excites thought.... Without the strict regulations, the dialogues could have become a tool for political education. It is strange that we have such strict regulations and discourage campaigners from initiating interesting dialogues."

"Orderly Campaigning"

Readers of Muslim, intellectual Republika saw this (5/14): "The latest interesting phenomenon in the campaign is Megawati supporters marching for the PPP. Under the regulations, 'Mega-Bintang' posters are inappropriate since there is no party of that name."

"Political Education Significant"

According to nationalistic Merdeka (5/14): "During a Golkar campaign in Ujung Pandang, South Sulawesi, an attractive singer invited a member of the crowd onto the stage, and asked him why he was at the rally. He answered that he was going to vote for the singer. Finding his answer ridiculous, the singer repeated her question, only to receive the same answer. The singer then amended the person's statement to say that he was there to choose Golkar....

"This demonstrates that we must prioritize political education, as man will not be content with bread and cake alone."

"Banning Banners--Ruling Golkar Stoops Low To Gain Votes"

An editorial in the government-oriented Indonesian Observer noted (5/14): "Now comes this ruling that bans the Mega-Bintang banners. This may prove to be the last straw for those who seek change but may yet vote for Golkar. Indeed, there seems to be no limit on how low one is prepared is prepared to stoop to emerge victorious."

"Campaign Or Carnival?"

Under the above headline, independent Media Indonesia queried (5/12): "Festival of democracy? It seems that there is a big mistake. There are festivals in the streets, although they have nothing to do with democracy.... What we see in the streets is an authoritarian system. Therefore, it is of great concern if authoritarian activity is considered a festival of democracy. This is faulty political education and we have the obligation to clear up the misconception."

"Alliance For Change"

The leading, independent Jakarta Post said (5/12): "The emergence of a new political alliance, albeit unofficially, between supporters of...Megawati and the PPP is probably about the only surprise anyone can expect from this year's general election.... The strongest message that the new alliance is sending is that the demand for political reforms in this country is growing.... The new alliance will not likely dent Golkar's election chances, but the message it has sent--that there is a growing undercurrent of demand for political reforms--cannot simply be dismissed."

"Whom Do Legislators Represent?"

The leading, independent Jakarta Post featured this column (5/10) by Soedjati Djiwandono on page one: "It seems almost certain that the (upcoming) election will ultimately sustain the present status quo.... It is even doubtful if most members of the new assembly, which is supposed to be the supreme governing body in the Indonesian political system...know much about reform, recognize the need for it, know how to implement it, or have the courage to introduce the idea and initiate steps towards it.... Most parliament members are...carpetbaggers."

Australia: "Elections, Indonesian Style"

The editorial in the liberal Melbourne daily Age (5/27) read: "Since it seized independence after World War II, Indonesia has made extraordinary economic advances, and yet there are increasing signs of dissent which lay bare a fragility in the political system. President Soeharto's economic miracles, backed by massive financial aid from other nations, have not been matched by an extension of democratic rights. Indonesians have not been blind to the widening gap between rich and poor.... As President Soeharto weighs the implications of Indonesia's month of unrest, it is to be hoped that, with encouragement from Australia and other countries, he will take his country on a faster transition to democracy and reject any tendencies towards further repression."

"Indonesian Poll Poses Questions"

The national conservative Australian commented (5/26): "Despite the violent clashes that have been an ugly feature of the campaign...the result is not in doubt.

"The ruling Golkar Party will win.... This is not a democratic election as Australians understand the term.... President Soeharto almost certainly will stand for another five-year term...(and) he will not be opposed. The interest, therefore, is on who becomes his vice-president and putative successor.... As prime minister, Mr. Paul Keating elevated the political relationship with Indonesia to the same plane as Japan and the United States.... In trade and investment, the ties remain strong... Within Indonesia's 200 million people. a growing middle class attracts Australian commercial interest. The challenge for Indonesia is to preserve stability and economic growth by spreading the wealth beyond the rich and middle class. Its governments task must be to act for the wider community...and to foster genuine mass political participation."

"Why U.S. Can't Ignore Jakarta"

The op-ed page of the conservative Australian (4/22) ran this commentary by its foreign affairs editor: "It is worth pointing out that it is vastly hypocritical for the UN Human Rights Commission to criticize Indonesia, but not China.... So far, Indonesia does not have a strategy for dealing with Washington's strategic amnesia and policy flip-flops. There is no Indonesian constituency in Washington in the way there is a China constituency or a Taiwan constituency. With the Cold War over, Washington hardly knows Southeast Asia exists. For Washington, Asia tends to be Japan and China, Taiwan and sometimes Korea.... Canberra has been telling Washington that it needs to ensure that overall it has a good relationship with Jakarta and one that doesn't sway dangerously with whatever breeze is blowing through Washington."

"Human Rights In East Timor And China"

The liberal Sydney Morning Herald noted (4/18): "The resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Commission criticizing Indonesia for violations of human rights in East Timor, raises the question of whether that commission is guilty of double standards. Just the day before, the same body voted down a resolution criticizing China's human rights record. Indonesia can hardly be described as a minnow in world affairs, but it certainly lacks the international clout of the emerging China.... But once countries decide to make moral judgments about the behavior of other countries, there will always be inconsistencies and there will always be a splitting of moral hairs. That is not sufficient reason, however, for liberal democracies not to include human rights as an aspect of foreign policy."

Philippines: "Three Elections: Iran, France, Indonesia"

Former envoy to Europe, J.V. Cruz, penned this for the independent Manila Chronicle (5/26): "The bloodiest of the three election campaigns has been Indonesia, where more than 100 people have been killed during the month-long campaign for the parliament that will then elect the president.... This has been the bloodiest election yet during the three-decade-long reign of President Soeharto, who will, of course, be elected to a new term. Whether he lives long enough to complete it, and who will succeed him if he does not, are the questions that may be of greater concern to the Indonesians (who will vote May 29) as well as to their neighbors in our region. Never has the country's stability under Soeharto been challenged as severely as now."

South Korea: "Ruling Party Eyes 70% Of Seats In Indonesia"

Conservative Chosun Ilbo commented (5/12): "With the general election ten days away, the Indonesian public is interested in knowing whether the ruling party will obtain a landslide victory or not. The Golkar Party, which has ruled since 1971, is trying to win 350 seats. This upcoming general election, which is considered to be a dress rehearsal for the presidential election of March next year, is of great importance to President Soeharto, who will run for his seventh term. "As the Indonesian government limited the opposition parties' campaign activities, including outdoor rallies, and prohibited the strongest candidate, Megawati, from running, the opposition parties have little chance of achieving a surprise victory. Furthermore, the overall economic situation puts the ruling party in an advantageous position."

Thailand: "It Is Time The Old Man Steps Down With Dignity"

Cafe Dam of elite, business-oriented Krungthep Turakij commented (5/23), "Today's more politically-conscious generation of Indonesians are asking themselves whether they still want to be subjected to one-man rule.... They wonder who will inherit the helm in case of Soeharto's sudden departure. Should it be one of his close associates? The elections are for real. They are no longer a staged farce because the long pent-up, frustrated opposition and public are now ready to exert a claim for their legitimate rights.... It is time for the (Indonesian) leader to step down gracefully unless he wants to be gotten rid of in the same manner as he ousted Sukarno."

Bangladesh: "Repressive Pre-Election Policies"

Conservative Ittefaq declared (5/25): "The fact is that in Indonesia, opposition parties are never allowed to be active. Some opposition does try to emerge now and then and labor organizations try to take anti-government stances. But they cannot last long because of the oppressive policy of the Indonesian government.... Despite all this, the human rights situation in Indonesia is not as bad as it is in Burma. Soeharto's rule, though fully autocratic, is benevolent in some sectors. Newspapers can function freely within a very limited scale. Moreover, Soeharto has been able to show some real economic growth for Indonesia--about eight percent in the current decade.... But Soeharto is not showing any signs to create a trend for changing power in a democratic way. The decisions of his relatives are more active in Indonesia. For this reason, despite economic growth, unrest is increasing in Indonesia.

"Simmering Tensions In Indonesia"

The independent Bangladesh Observer pointed out (5/24): "One of the frequent accusations heard outside Indonesia is that the Muslim majority in Indonesia is attempting to force Islam on East Timor through transmigration of Muslims from other parts of Indonesia. The Nobel prize awarded to the two supporters of self-determination for East Timor has raised East Timor's profile again internationally and given a boost to the resistance movement activists to fight for Timorese independence. There is no doubt that ethnic tensions and violence spreading sporadically are nothing new in Indonesia. Tensions generally stem from the government's 'transmigration policy,' which resettles people from crowded islands to less populated ones. This often spark outbursts, culminating into violent riots."