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Only eight parties qualify for elections

Associated Press - December 4, 1998

Jakarta – Only eight out of more than 100 new political parties are currently eligible to contest parliamentary elections in Indonesia June 7, a news report said Friday.

Dozens of parties have mushroomed following last May's resignation of authoritarian President Suharto, who previously controlled political activity.

Under Suharto, only three parties could contest elections and their policies and candidates were strictly vetted. Suharto's successor and erstwhile protege, President B.J. Habibie, has promised greater democracy, but he has maintained that new parties must adhere to basic principles.

The proposed electoral law says membership of parties must be open to all ethnic and religious groups. They also need to operate branches in at least half of Indonesia's 27 provinces or be able to collect 1 million signatures of support.

The Indonesian Observer newspaper quoted a government official as saying only a handful of parties currently meet these and other requirements that are contained in a proposed electoral law now before the Parliament. Home Affairs Ministry official Ryaas Rasyid, who helped draft the proposed law, said only eight parties conformed to the bill's requirements, including the three parties that operated during the Suharto era.

After the election, Indonesia's highest legislative grouping, the People's Consultative Assembly, will convene Aug. 29 to select a new head of state. Habibie and several others have indicated they will stand for the presidency.

Habibie is the target of a rising tide of protests by students. They are demanding he bring Suharto to trial and are critical of the pace of reform.