Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS-INDONESIA: Voter Education Picks up Ahead of 2004 Polls

Richel Dursin

JAKARTA, Nov 19 2002 (IPS) - ”If I get elected president, all corruptors will be brought to justice,” Indonesian broadcast journalist Arif Suditomo told a crowd of some 1,200 students one Sunday morning.

”Elect me as your president and there will be free education and health services for all,” fiction writer Dewi Lestari shouted from a makeshift stage in the middle of a stadium in South Jakarta in the Indonesian capital.

”I regret I didn’t bring money for you, but if I become vice president, poverty will be eradicated in this country,” promised comedian Hadi Prabowo.

Suditomo, Lestari and Prabowo were among six candidates for president and vice president in a mock direct presidential election, complete with posters and election banners, organised by the non-governmental Centre for Electoral Reform (CETRO) here on Nov. 17.

It is one among several voters’ education programmes CETRO is conducting all over Indonesia ahead of its presidential polls in 2004.

Those elections will mark the first time that Indonesians will directly elect their head of state – a key change in the constitution and in political processes after the democratic transition after Suharto’s downfall in 1998.

During Suharto’s 32-year rule and up until the election of President Megawati Sukarnoputri last year, Indonesia’s president and vice president have been elected by politicians in the 700-member People’s Consultative Assembly, the country’s top legislative body.

Given the change in Indonesia’s political culture, ”it’s important to prepare the voters for the coming elections,” CETRO executive director Smita Notosusanto said, adding that awareness needs to be done early.

Indeed, Sunday’s election reflected Indonesians’ concerns about issues like corruption, economic security and basic services as well quality of life.

”How will you fight corruption?” high school student Willy Rizal, one among the 1,200 students from eight private schools who took part in the mock election, asked of the campaigning candidates.

”How will you ensure that human rights violators, including high-ranking military officers, are prosecuted?” added student Eva Fauzia. ”Where will you get the money to provide free education and health services for all?” asked yet another student, Maradona Gea.

After the candidates from two independent parties and one coalition party spelled out their agenda, several from the crowd blurted out, ”we do not want leaders who make empty promises”.

Throughout the country next year, CETRO, in partnership with local organisations, will be conducting similar mock elections in big cities like Medan in North Sumatra, Makassar in South Sulawesi, Palembang in South Sumatra, and Surabaya in East Java.

The main participants in these mock presidential elections are high school students who would be eligible to vote in 2004. According to Notosusanto, these students have been selected to take part in the exercise because their votes would be a deciding factor in the elections. ”They have never voted and usually first-time voters are swing voters. So they are important politically because they could sway the election race in 2004,” she said.

After casting her vote in Sunday’s mock poll, 17-year-old Ikoh said, ”The exercise is important in terms of educating the youth, especially on politics and democracy.”

CETRO has also worked on voter education at the regional level. In October, for instance, it organised a mock election for district heads in Aceh province, which under its special autonomy law is the first province to have direct polls for heads of regional governments.

Apart from organising mock elections, CETRO distributes pamphlets to the public about the importance of direct presidential elections and trains teachers about the election process and the need for its credibility and integrity.

”Stay away from money politics,” reads a pamphlet it gives to the public.

The mock polls followed all elements of the election process – from the poll campaign, verification of registration forms and ballot papers, vote casting, vote counting to submission of the vote tally.

Ballot papers and the election tally were also signed by an election committee in order to be valid.

And winners were proclaimed too. Broadcast journalist Arif Suditomo won as president and his running mate, actress Nurul Arifin won as vice president, garnering 58 percent of the votes.

”If we don’t do this kind of voters’ education programme now, the public will not be ready for the elections in 2004,” Notosusanto said.

CETRO is also pushing for the implementation of a proportional system with an open list of candidates for the election of legislative bodies, which it believes would ensure a more accountable representative system.

But the House of Representatives is still deliberating on the election bill and most parties in parliament oppose the combination of a proportional system with an open list of candidates.

The election bill drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs provides a modified proportional system to elect legislators at the provincial and regional levels.

”If we continue to use the current proportional system there will be no changes. The next election will be the same as those in the past,” said human rights activist and CETRO adviser Todung Mulya Lubis.

If CETRO has its way, the 2004 presidential election would also have high-profile debates among presidential candidates, so the public can directly assess their platforms.

But most political parties in the parliament do not want any debate among presidential candidates – critics say this is no surprise because politics here tends to be more focused on personalities rather than programmes.

 
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Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

POLITICS-INDONESIA: Voter Education Picks up Ahead of 2004 Polls

Richel Dursin

JAKARTA, Nov 19 2002 (IPS) - “If I get elected president, all corruptors will be brought to justice,” Indonesian broadcast journalist Arif Suditomo told a crowd of some 1,200 students one Sunday morning.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |

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