APSN Banner

Political fight shapes up over election laws

Agence France Presse - January 2, 1999

Jakarta – A political fight was looming here Saturday over the likely disqualification of scores of new political parties from taking part in the first general elections since the fall of Suharto.

The wrangle was triggered by a statement by Home Affairs Minister Syarwan Hamid last week that only 15 of some 120 parties that have sprung up since Suharto's fall would qualify for the June 7 polls under new laws being drawn up by parliament.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie, a former Suharto protege, in a New Year's Eve address pledged he would do all he could to ensure the elections would be free and fair, and urged Indonesians to see them as the door to a new beginning.

But a university student senate in Central Java warned in an announcement published by the Indonesian Observer Saturday that if it saw the new rules as unfair or "benefitting the status quo" it could boycott the polls. The Diponogoro University senate also said it would welcome any political parties unhappy with the rules to join the boycott.

Sources among student groups in Jakarta, who have been at the forefront of the reform battle with massive street demonstrations, told AFP they were awaiting the publication of the parliamentary rules before taking action. "It is becoming clear that the (Jakarta student) groups will be divided between those who are for the elections, and those against," said one student leader from Forkot, the students' City Forum grouping some 30 universities in the greater Jakarta area.

Meanwhile respected moderate Moslem scholar, Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, lashed out at any boycott plan, and called a separate move mooted last week by the smaller parties to hold their own election as "unconstitutional."

"If there is a rival election, it is clearly unconstitutional," said Gus Dur, who has been shuttling between the armed forces, the president, the students and leading reformists in an attempt to shore up national unity at a time of waning confidence in the government. The currrent government, Gus Dur said, was "in a mess," but the best way out was through elections "organized by a fair and just committee" with the Habibie government acting only as a facilitator.

Should only 15 parties meet a government proposal now before parliament for representation in one third of the country's 27 provinces, more than 100 parties of the new parties that have mushrooomed since Suharto's fall on May 21 would be out of the running.

Some critics of the government proposals have counter-proposed that all 120 be allowed to run in June 1999 to serve as a weeding-out process for the next five-yearly elections in 2005.

But the only parties represented in parliament are the three allowed under Suharto's rule – the ruling Golkar party, the Moslem-oriented United development Party (PPP) and the smaller Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI).

The current leading presidential hopefuls are Habibie, Megawati Sukarnoputri, popular daughter of the country's founding president Sukarno, and Moslem intellectual Amien Rais.

Megawati was kicked out of the PDI leadership when the Suharto government rigged a PDI conference in 1996, a move that was greeted by widespread rioting in Jakarta.

The Golkar-majority parliament is currently deadlocked over whether civil servants should be allowed to hold party posts, a practice which helped Golkar sweep every poll since the early 1970s.