Jakarta – A professor at the state-run University of Indonesia (UI) Wednesday took off his blue government-issue shirt at a campus here to symbolize the teaching staff's break from the ruling Golkar party.
"We have agreed that civil servants must be neutral. If we should involve in a political party, we'd rather have our own political party," said dentistry professor Roi Pralestya Budi.
It was the first time since the fall of former president Suharto in May that any group had rejected the KORPRI (corps of Indonesian civil servants') uniform, which during the Suharto years symbolized their support for Golkar.
Budi said he was acting on behalf of some 50 members of the UI teaching staff and those of the neighboring state-run Cipto Mangunkusumo hospital in a ceremony in front of the main building of the university's school of medicine. The shirts, worn on ceremonial occasions, would be donated to the poor, he said.
The professor told journalists that the country's some six million civil servants, and their families, must now be independent of any political parties in serving the people.
"You can imagine how many votes Golkar gets every election if every family (with an average of five members) votes for it," he added. He said he expected other civil servants to follow suit. The student-backed KORPRI-shirts-off campaign has collected 50 shirts from the staffs of the university and hospital, including that of former university rector Dr. M.K. Tajuddin, Budi said.
During the rule of former president Suharto, who stepped down in May last year, civil servants and their family members were obliged to vote for Golkar, helping the party to a landslide victory in every general election.
The government of Suharto's successor, President B.J. Habibie, has said the military and civil servants can now be politically neutral, saying they should concentrate on their duty to serve the people.
However, Golkar, fearing that it will lose many of its traditional votes, is fighting in parliament for civil servants be allowed to join political parties, claiming that barring them would deprive civil servants of their civil rights.
The battle this week reached the top levels of government, with State Secretary Akbar Tanjung, who is also Golkar chairman, in a stand-off with Cooperatives Minister Adi Sasono, who has refused to campaign for Golkar for the upcoming June 7 elections, despite Tanjung's orders to do so.