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Golkar election victory is marred by claims of fraud

Far Eastern Economic Review - June 12, 1997

Margot Cohen, Malang – A s village secretary, he knew every trick in the book. Presiding over previous vote counts, he would puncture ballots with a swift flick of a thumbnail, and spoil others with a rusty nail lodged under the table. He cast his own vote as many as six times at different polling stations.

Now retired after 20 years of service in the Tajinan district of East Java, the official decided his loyalty to the ruling Golkar Party had reached its limit. After observing the May 29 polls, the 54-year-old Muslim handed in his report on election irregularities to an unofficial group of voluntary overseers. The single majority is no good, he says, asking that his name not be used. People are demanding justice and the rule of law.

Complaints of election fraud rose sharply this year for what the Indonesian government calls its festival of democracy, marring Golkar's 74% majority. Officially, the Muslim-oriented United Development Party, known as the PPP, took 22%, while a paltry 3% voted for the third contender, the Indonesian Democratic Party, or PDI.

While the cheating allegations have yet to be proven, there are many eyewitness reports of irregularities, and voters are shedding deeply ingrained fears to confront the powers that be. If the people don't rise up, the cheating will never stop, says Marzuqi, an Arabic-language teacher in the East Java town of Malang.

Irate voters on the island of Madura did not hesitate to rise up on election day, after polls opened suspiciously early and vote counting commenced behind closed doors at district offices. Riots ripped through five districts in Madura's Sampang regency, prompting unprecedented re-voting at 86 polling stations. Villagers also turned violent in four districts in West Java after vote counts revealed overwhelming local victories for Golkar. For the most part, however, voters channelled their frustrations through written and verbal reports to the PPP or the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring, known as Kipp an unofficial group of lawyers, activists, religious leaders and others dedicated to fair elections. The complaints will be summarized in Kipp's final report, to be issued on June 8.

One particular abuse, highlighted by both the PPP and Kipp, involved voting cards categorized as A/B, which allow voters to vote in the election outside their home district. Many civil servants reportedly received such cards and voted twice, once at their offices and again near their homes. Schoolchildren of voting age were allegedly given A/B cards and told by school principals to vote for Golkar. As many as 200 A/B cards were distributed per village, with scant accountability. This has been going on for years, but it's only now that we know for sure, says Arifin, a government appointed election overseer in Tajinan district.

While the central government does admit some election irregularities, it played down their scope. The problems occurred in only one or two areas, Golkar chairman and Minister for Information Harmoko told reporters on June 1.

Going by the cases documented by the PPP, it would be hard to award prizes for subtlety to the fraudsters. At one polling station in Surabaya, East Java, only 600 voters showed up, but the vote count was 800. In Godang Legi, East Java, 381 Golkar votes were allegedly stuffed into the ballot box beforehand. In Huko Huko, central Sulawesi, the ballot boxes were allegedly whisked off to the district office instead of being counted openly before the public. In Lampung, South Sumatra, a requested recount yielded 85 PPP votes, compared to the initial count of two votes.

If there is no follow up on these cases, the government runs the risk of losing its authority, PPP secretary general Tosari Widjaja told the REVIEW. The unusually high incidence of violence during the campaign ending in a riot in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan that left at least 123 dead helped boost the ruling party's victory. Much of the violence erupted at PPP rallies, although both PPP leaders and military officials maintain outsiders often fanned the flames.

Clearly, many voters were haunted by the spectre of national instability. Golkar did not hesitate to play on those fears, particularly in regions scarred by the 1965 66 anti communist bloodletting. Golkar loves the people and wants them to feel safe, said a circular handed out just before the election in the East Java village of Merjosari.

There was no alternative but Golkar, notes Hotman Siahaan, a sociologist at Airlangga University in Surabaya. In some areas, the PPP itself generated fear.

As for the PDI, government and military officials have clearly succeeded in crushing the party. Until last year the PDI was led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of former president Sukarno, and was threatening to challenge Golkar. But ever since Megawati was ousted last June and replaced by Suryadi, a government-backed candidate, PDI support has been split.

Some local branches of the PPP were counting on catching Megawati supporters' votes. But in late May, Megawati announced that she would not vote. While emphasizing that she was not instructing supporters to follow her example, that was how many interpreted her words.

This swelled the ranks of the Golput vote, the local term for leaving the ballot blank, or spoiled. In the East Java town of Pasuruan, blank and ruined ballots totalled 14,687, while the PDI only garnered 1,647 votes, according to the Surabaya based daily newspaper Surya. Other papers estimate the Golput vote surged more than 10% nationwide over the 1992 estimate.

We're thrilled that the PDI vote fell drastically, says Sri Suharto, chairman of the pro Megawati PDI branch in Batu, East Java. The government has to know that Megawati supporters are militant. They have to get rid of Suryadi. Indeed, rumours have already swept Jakarta that the government could engineer yet another party congress for a leadership reshuffle.

But officials congratulating themselves on the PDI's woes may yet pause for thought. In addition to alienated PPP supporters and radicalized Megawati fans, they now have to cope with thousands of resentful PDI loyalists. We in the countryside are only victims of political game playing by the elite, says Z.F. Johnny, vice chairman of PDI's Malang branch. Such disgruntlement does not bode well for a smooth road to March 1998, when the People's Consultative Assembly will anoint a new national president.

The post election hangover has left many Indonesians shaking their heads over the tragic loss of life and vast sums squandered on mass rallies and party uniforms. Some village headmen are taken aback by the new disrespect shown by youth, emboldened after throwing rocks at security forces and defying government bans on motorcycle convoys. But in the East Java village of Mendalan, there's at least one voter who has no regrets. In the first five minutes of the very first campaign rally of his life, 19-year-old Makrus got caught in a riot and entered a hospital with a thigh wound from a rubber bullet. He says he wasn't rioting, but was excited to be part of the general mayhem. I feel really happy, says the young carpenter. Elections come only once every five years.