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Poll watchdogs shift into high gear

Jakarta Post - February 8, 1999

Jakarta The rush to prepare independent observers of the polls, slated to take place in barely five months, continues as the country's two largest Muslim organizations cooperate to prepare 123,600 volunteer poll observers.

In Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, the Joint Forum of Election Monitoring was set up on Friday and aims to recruit 20,000 volunteer poll observers. Earlier, the Indonesian Rectors Forum launched in Bandung, West Java, preparations to recruit 450,000 university students and lecturers for the sarne purpose.

The new cooperation between Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah organizations comprises 11 of their community and religious bodies. Like other networks, activities include preparations for voter education and training for volunteers. The 11 organizations are under the coordination of Nahdlatul Ulama's Institute for Human Resources Development Studies.

"We are nonparty oriented and independent. The volunteers will be ready for deployment in all provinces, except East Timor due to current political developments there," Helmy Ali Yafie told The Jakarta Post on Friday. The volunteers will be ready to work from the province level to the district level, he said. "We have to move fast because of the tight schedule," Helmy said

On Friday, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating it would channel aid from at least 14 countries for the purpose of poll monitoring. The aid is estimated to reach US$10 rnillion.

Earlier established networks such as the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP) and the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel) are among recipients of the aid.

Nahdlatul Ulama's network will start its one month voter education program on Wednesday through talk shows on television and radio, discussions, information dissemination through the media and through posters and flyers.

"We will spread the idea of a free and fair election up to the subdistricts and villages," Helmy added. In April, the network will start actual monitoring activities. "We are open to any independent participants," he said.

Fajrul Falaakh, an executive in charge of Nahdlatul Ulama's human resources development, noted that the task of monitoring a general election was relatively new here.

"None of the monitoring groups in this country will be really ready to run their tasks smoothly," Fajrul also a UNDP advisor, said. He cited the hardest job of the network would be determining whether voters were really free of pressure, apart from counting ballots and verifying them.

"All this needs special standardization, both in rules and systems. We have to set this with other monitoring groups," he added.

In Ujungpandang last week, a monitoring network coordinator under the Joint Forum said its 20,000 volunteers would not adequately cover the ideal of two observers at each election post in South Sulawesi's 21 regencies and two townships. "But we hope they can be effective anyway," M. Darwis said.

Meanwhile, the "team of eleven" in charge of selecting poll contestants will start working on Monday by composing duectives for 87 chapters in the new law on political parties and on general elections.

The drafts of the directives will be submitted to the yet-to be-established National Elections Committee (KPU) on Feb. 28, according to team member Mulyana W. Kusumah who expressed optimism that with good division of labor the task would be carried out well.

The team does not have decision-making power, and the drafts will only be submitted as recommendations, according to Mulyana. The team of eleven comprises 11 respected scholars and activists. Its main duties are to select and recommend to the KPU political parties eligible to contest the June 7 poll.

The elections committee itself will be set up after registration of political parties is completed on Feb. 21. A total of 140 political parties have been registered at the Ministry of Home Affairs, but in order to contest the poll they have to register as corporate bodies at the Ministry of Justice.

They will be processed further by the team of eleven and, finally, by the elections committee.