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Students launch poll watchdog

Agence France Presse - December 5, 1998

Jakarta – Students from 14 Indonesian universities met here Saturday to launch a watchdog to monitor general elections pledged for June 7 next year, student sources said.

The meeting wound up two days of talks among representatives of the universities who aim to not only monitor the polls, but the parliamentary deliberations under way to draw up post-Suharto era election rules.

The students said the watchdog body – the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (UNFREL) – was officially launched this weekend. "The forum will be established today after we finish deliberating our plan," said a University of Indonesia student who was part of the watchdog working committee.

He said that the participating universities included ones from the cities of Surabaya, Ujungpandang, Padang, Semarang and Yogyakarta as well as Jakarta.

The group will also launch voter education programs in the runup to the elections, which will for the first time in decades not be confined to three authorized parties or dominated by the ruling Golkar party.

More than 100 political parties have sprung up since the fall of former president Suharto in May, when his successor and protege B.J. Habibie dropped the three-party restriction.

But parliament is still locked in a fierce debate over what criteria the parties must fulfill to participate in the June elections, with most wrangling over whether a party must have offices in at least half the districts of this vast country of 202 million.