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Election dates change again

Australian Financial Review - December 7, 1998

Greg Earl, Jakarta – Indonesia has outlined yet another schedule for its elections next year as horse-trading over the shape of the new electoral system enters a volatile final phase.

A senior government official was quoted yesterday as saying the presidential election would be held on October 28 followed by the swearing in of a new president on November 10.

The new dates supercede suggestions last week that the presidential election could be held around the end of August in what appeared to be a significant concession to government opponents who say President B.J. Habibie is clinging to power too long. The two new dates are each commemorative days for historic events in what appears to be an attempt to give some added respectability to a timetable that will drag out the country's economic recovery.

The economic risks of a long electoral schedule were underlined last week when economic planning officials suggested that Indonesia may not produce a traditional government budget in January for the fiscal year beginning in April, but instead simply extend the current budget until after a new president is elected.

The election planning gathered more pace at the weekend with the creation of a university-based election monitoring organisation which is likely to be one of several domestic and foreign monitoring groups.

A large group of potential new political parties also held a conference yesterday to inject their views into the House of Assembly debate on election reform which reconvenes today but is dominated by the existing Soeharto-era parties.

While June 7 has been generally accepted as the general election date, there are many uncertainties over the system and several analysts believe that street protests could quickly become more serious if the government does not produce a fair election system.

One controversial issue is whether regional parliaments will also hold elections on that day or whether their representatives in the presidential election assembly will come from the existing bodies that are dominated by the Government's Golkar Party.

Another issue prompting opposition from the new parties is a requirement that to be eligible for the election a party must have branches in half of Indonesia's provinces and local government centres or one million signatures from supporters.

There is also uncertainty about what body will oversee the election and how independent it will be from the government, and no clear agreement on the electoral system although it will be a largely proportional representation system.