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Hope for change lies with students

Jakarta Post - January 23, 1999

Jakarta – More than 130 new political parties have sprouted up since May of last year when the reformation era was ushered in, but will the people entrust these parties with their hopes for democracy? According to the latest poll jointly conducted by The Jakarta Post and D&R magazine the people are not placing their hopes in political parties, but rather they are trusting university students to deliver democracy to the country.

A change to democracy after more than 30 years under the repressive regime of former president Soeharto is the fresh air the people are eager to breathe in.

This poll, conducted in five major cities across the country, found that the people are placing their hopes for democracy on the shoulders of university students who, ironically, are outside of the political system. This suggests that the people simply have no trust in the current political system, and place more trust in students than political leaders.

However, the people still believe that political parties with a large public support can also contribute to change in the country. Therefore, three political parties which have the potential to draw overwhelming public support featured prominently in the poll. These three parties are the Megawati Soekarnoputri led faction of the Indonesian Democratic Party, the Nation Awakening Party and the People's Mandate Party.

The poll found that 53.9 percent of the respondents believed students would be able to push the country to a better democracy, while 24.7 percent of respondents thought political parties could lead the country to an improved democracy.

Nonetheless, exactly half of the respondents admitted that they were confused by the present government's policies regarding the shift to democracy. Nearly half of the respondents also believed that the current political map was still a jumble.

The survey was conducted by the Research Productivity Center in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Denpasar and Medan. The 250 respondents in each of the five cities, comprising 68.7 percent men and 31.3 percent women, were randomly selected.

The poll also recorded the people's sense of guarded optimism toward any political promises coming from the government. They still believed, however, that an election would be held this year. Should the election be postponed, they said, it would be because of social disorder or because of pressure from certain political groups, not because of Habibie's desire to postpone the poll.

Survey respondents also believed that Habibie's willingness to hold on to power would not depend on Habibie himself but on outside political factors. This suggests that a system of power in Indonesia is gradually manifesting itself.

Questioned about whether there would really be an election this year, 68.5 percent of those surveyed responded yes and 21.4 percent answered that they did not think an election would be held. Of those who did not believe that the election would be held, 71.8 percent believed that the election would be purposely postponed to maintain the status quo.

Asked what could prevent the poll from being held, 54.2 percent of respondents said widespread chaos and 35.5 percent believed that pressures from certain political groups toward the government would stop the poll from taking place.

The objectivity and fairness of elections was always questioned during the reign of Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist from 1966 to 1998 and who allowed only three political parties to contest in elections.

Asked if the upcoming election would be objective and fair, 44 percent of respondents doubted the election would be fair. Only 25 percent of respondents believed that the election would be fair.

The Armed Forces (ABRI), an extremely important factor in Indonesian politics, has recently suffered an image problem as past misdeeds continue to come to light.

Asked whether the Armed Forces would remain neutral in the upcoming election, 41.6 percent of those polled said no, while another 32.4 percent expressed doubts about ABRI's neutrality. This overwhelming response makes one thing clear: in the eyes of the people, ABRI will not remain neutral in the upcoming election.

The question of ABRI's neutrality and the political status of civil servants, currently being wooed by various political groups, help to undermine the people's belief that the upcoming election will be fairer, cleaner and more objective than the previous six elections held under Soeharto.