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Students support poll as lesser evil

Jakarta Post - February 23, 1999

Bandung – Student leaders agreed on Sunday after a three-day meeting to support the upcoming general election, which they have deemed unfair for being based on defective political laws, as they said to call off the election would lead to more trouble.

A total of 163 student leaders from 63 colleges and universities across the country conceded their stance may appear ambiguous, but said it was the best compromise given the wide differences of opinion they brought to the meeting at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Delegates from outside of Java, for instance, saw the issues of regional autonomy and the curbing of military operations as more urgent than the elections. They also believed the most pressing problem was preventing disintegration.

As for the elections, Shoni Hamdani, of the Yogyakarta Teachers Training Institute, said: "How could it be fair if the military has already been given 38 seats at the House even before the contest begins? It's not even certain yet that parties contesting the elections will be able to get that many seats!" Among the issues that the students agreed on was their opposition to the military's presence in the legislature.

They disagreed on whether students should establish poll watch groups. Opponents to this idea said that monitoring the elections would be an endorsement of the exercise.

"However, we agreed that individual universities should decide their own course on the matter," he said. "[Some of us] agreed we could not accept the elections, but neither would we hinder it." The students agreed to set up what they called an "anti-violence network", and to continue pressing the political parties to build a new, democratic Indonesia free from any "Soehartoist elements".

Abdul Salam Sembiring from Medan, North Sumatra, said students would always support campaigns to form a new and democratic Indonesia, as long as the campaigns were peaceful and orderly. "That's what the people want, too," he said.

Meanwhile, the coordinator for the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel), Berlian Indriansyah, said also in Bandung that elections would be the gateway to a better Indonesia.

Berlian was quoted by Antara as saying the elections were now no longer a government responsibility but that of the nation, including the students.

Berlian, who is a student at the University of Indonesia's school of dentistry, said students should be involved not only in monitoring the elections but also educating the public.

Berlian said Unfrel has been working with various organizations such as the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) and the Independent Elections Monitoring Committee (KIPP) to prepare students for the poll monitoring activities.

Various universities have established their own poll watchdog groups, including the Indonesian Rectors Forum, which is in the process of recruiting 450,000 students and lecturers for the purpose.