On 29 May this year, the Indonesian people will be expected, indeed required, to take part in a general election, the results of which will have no effect on the way the country is run. This will be the sixth general election since General Suharto seized power in 1965. As with all the previous elections, it is a foregone conclusion that the government party, GOLKAR, will win a 70 per cent majority.
The parliamentary elections, which take place every five years, are being held to fill 425 of the 500 seats in the country's parliament, the DPR. The other 75 seats will be given to members of the armed forces, ABRI. The DPR is not an independent legislature but acts at the behest of the Executive; it never initiates legislation and has never been known to reject bills tabled by the Executive. It is, in very sense of the term, a rubber-stamp parliament. Several more outspoken members of Parliament have been unseated. The latest to lose his seat was Sri-Bintang Pamungkas, a PPP member of Parliament whose party unseated him in 1995 for making critical remarks about government economic policies.
The key decisions about the governance of the country - the adoption of the State political guidelines and the election of the President and Vice-President - are taken by the upper chamber, the MPR. There are no separate elections for the MPR. It meets once every five years, ten months after the DPR elections. The upper chamber consists of the five hundred members of the DPR plus five hundred presidential appointees from the regions and members of the government. (Indonesia has a presidential cabinet and members of the cabinet are regarded as 'assistants of the President'. ) This means that 57.5 per cent of MPR members are presidential appointees (the 500 appointees plus the 75 ABRI members of Parliament). Along with the GOLKAR members of Parliament, the President is assured the loyalty of 87 per cent of the members of the MPR as follows:
In fact, these figures understate support for and loyalty to the regime as the two other parties allowed to contest the election are required to adhere to the state ideology, Pancasila, and support the government's programme. Under a system crafted in 1973 by Suharto himself, only three parties are permitted to contest. Besides GOLKAR, the two 'also-rans' are the PDI, the Indonesian Democracy Party, and the PPP, the United Development Party. These two parties are the forced mergers of the nine political parties that survived the political holocaust unleashed by Suharto and the armed forces after 1965, during which the Indonesian communist party, the PKI, and other left-wing parties were physically exterminated. The PPP was the forced merger of the surviving Muslim parties and is still seen as being Muslim-based. The PDI was the forced merger of the surviving nationalist and Christian-oriented parties. This arrangement served Suharto's decision to limit the number of parties to three. While avoiding the international opprobrium that always confronts a one-party state, Suharto made sure of a system in which the regime's party would always win and the other parties would not be allowed to function as opposition parties.
The president and vice-president are elected by the MPR, not by direct election. The composition of the MPR being what it is, Suharto who has already served six terms, has always stood unopposed. Suharto always insists that he doesnt want to be President-for-life but that is how things have turned out. Unless the regime is dislodged, he will remain president for as long as he wishes. The choice of the vice-president is also a matter for Suharto, fixed behind closed doors in the run-up to the MPR session. The choice is supposed to indicate who might succeed Suharto but since he has always served out each term and the vice-president has been replaced every time, no one except Suharto has any idea who his preferred successor might be. Indonesia is now being referred to by some commentators as a Suhartocracy.
Enjoying massive financial and logistical backing of local and national government as well as the army, GOLKAR has always been able to steamroller voters into voting for the government ticket. Moreover, laws on party activity deny 'political parties' (GOLKAR is deemed not to be a 'political party' but a 'functional group') the right to operate below the district level which means that they are banned from opening offices and engaging in political activity in the villages and sub-district capitals. GOLKAR faces no such restriction. One of its members is KORPRI, the association of government employees which all six million civil servants and employees of government enterprises are require to join. Hence, there is a constant GOLKAR presence right down to the lowest unit of administration. GOLKAR's position is even more firmly secured by the fact that its chairperson, Harmoko, is also Minister of Information. He uses his dual role to undertake safaris throughout the country which ensure him saturation coverage on the various TV channels.
The GOLKAR/Harmoko control of television has secured a very heavy bias on television, as revealed in a media monitoring project undertaken by the independent association of journalists, AJI. It monitored news coverage of one week's broadcasting in each of the last three months of 1996 with the following results:
GOLKAR and Harmoko were featured nineteen times on news broadcasts by the national channel, TVRI, for a total of 34 minutes 18 seconds, as compared to only one item featuring the PPP lasting one minute 20 seconds, and two items featuring the PDI for a total of three minutes 9 seconds. Moreover, while all the GOLKAR items were upbeat in tone, those featuring the two parties showed them in an unfavourable light. Private TV channels showed the same bias which is not surprising as they are all owned by business groups close to the regime, including members of the President's family.
GOLKAR now feels confident enough about its commanding position to have announced that it will obtained 70.2 per cent of the votes.
Last year's machinations by ABRI and the Interior Minister, under instructions from President Suharto, to remove Megawati Sukarnoputri as chairperson of the PDI has turned this year's election exercise into even more of a farce. Her removal was prompted by the fear that the PDI under her leadership would win a far greater share of the votes than hitherto, cutting into the GOLKAR 70 per cent majority. After her removal and replacement at an unconstitutionally-convened PDI gathering in June 1996, she and her supporters were excluded from the list of election candidates produced by usurper-chairperson, Soerjadi on behalf of the decapitated PDI. Megawati enjoys the support of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of PDI members who now feel unrepresented and are unlikely to bother to vote. The ousting of Megawati has further delegitimised the whole process, with the result that there is widespread alienation.
Alongside this, there has been an upsurge in pro-democracy activism in Indonesia and growing contempt for the election process which far exceeds anything during the past five elections. For the first time, the Suharto regime is having to confront considerable political opposition to the election. In consequence, it has resorted to far greater security control and the introduction of a range of regulations which are clearly intended to protect the elections against a boycott and make sure that GOLKAR gets the proportion of votes considered necessary by Suharto.
Acutely aware of nation-wide dissatisfaction about the elections, Suharto and the armed forces have made it clear that the police and troops, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles of all descriptions are being mobilised to keep the streets clear of 'trouble-makers' in the run-up to the elections.
In late February, Suharto declared that anyone who tried to unseat him 'unconstitutionally' would be 'clobbered'. [Republika, 1 March] Two days earlier, the armed forces commander-in-chief, General Feisal Tanjung said that during the election campaign, troops would be under orders to 'shoot on sight' anyone who 'violates the law'. After Suharto's 'clobber' threat, Feisal Tanjung said that the armed forces would not 'compromise with anyone, especially those wishing to thwart the 1997 general election and the 1998 session of the MPR. ABRI is not prepared to play high stakes with the nation's integrity and stability merely in order to tolerate unreasonable concepts and measures'. [Suara Pembaruan, 28 February and Kompas, 2 March.]
On 20 February, the army staged a show of force in Jakarta involving ten thousand troops and a range of heavy equipment, including British-supplied Scorpion tanks, to cover the capital city during the election. This 'second line of defence' to back up the police involves troops from all the crack units within the armed forces. [Republika, 21 February] Similar shows of force have been held in other cities.
Deeply-felt discontent at the ousting of Megawati and a growing sense of alienation from the election has led to discussion at all levels of society about how to register this anger on polling day. Some say that this should take the form golput - golongan putih - or 'white group', which means invalidating voting slips by piercing none or all the party emblems; others suggest that voters should stay away. Another possibility is that groups may try to disrupt the election; Megawati supporters might decide to turn up at polling booths en masse to protest against the exclusion of their candidates.
Groups within the Partai Demokrasi Rakyat (PRD), many of whose leaders are now in jail and on trial for subversion, have organised a boycott campaign, pasting up posters and distributing leaflets in a number of cities. Several activists have been arrested and will soon face charges. The recently-established Partai Uni Demokrasi Indonesia (PUDI), whose leader, the former MP Sri-Bintang Pamungkas was arrested in early March, has also called for a boycott of the election. Indeed this was what precipitated his arrest.
Lending weight to the idea is a statement in February by Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, SJ, as head of the Catholic Bishops Conference, telling Catholics that 'it is not a sin not to vote'.
Voting is not obligatory under Indonesian law, nor is there anything on the statute books outlawing calls for a boycott. This has not stopped the authorities from taking action under the Criminal Code against anyone calling publicly for a boycott. A number of people have been charged under Article 161 which makes incitement a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of four years.
Opinions differ about the impact of a boycott. In the villages, people will be under strong pressure to vote, both from local officials and the army. However, an opinion poll among young people in Malang, East Java showed that more than 92 per cent said they would not vote. The poll which involved mostly well-educated, 'trend-setting' young people also revealed that nearly half of those saying they would not vote were the children of government officials or members of the armed forces.
Two parties, the PRD and PUDI, have called for a boycott and PRD activists have been out on the streets, leafleting. On 3 March, people in eleven major cities woke to find walls covered with slogans reading: 'Without Megawati, boycott the 1997 elections' and 'Until the dual function (of ABRI) is abandoned, boycott the 1997 election.' This is a high-risk strategy and several activists have already been arrested while others have gone into hiding. In Bogor, West Java, several printing machines used to print pro-boycott leaflets were confiscated and the security forces said that they were hunting down those responsible. [Jakarta Post, 7 March] In Central Java, two students have been given one-year sentences for distributing leaflets which said: 'Protect the elections from cheating'. Altogether four students were arrested for this offence. All four were held at a prison in Ambarawa. Three activists have been arrested in Lampung South Sumatra after a pro-boycott rally and are likely to face incitement charges.
Although Megawati herself has yet to announce the PDI's position, PDI supporters have been rallying in large numbers in many towns and cities. In courts throughout the country, local pro-Megawati activists have challenged the Soeryadi leadership and sought to have local PDI candidates disqualified. As PRD activist, Wilson, has written from his prison cell (he is now on trial for subversion), even without instructions from Megawati, the members of her PDI, through extra-parliamentary actions, are siding with the boycott.
On 15 April, more than ten thousand PDI supporters rallied outside Parliament in Jakarta, demanding that the Megawati-led PDI should participate in the elections. They were denied entry into Parliament and were not able to met the Speaker of Parliament. There was a heavy presence of security forces including police and army helocopters, and armoured vehicles, including six water cannon. But no attempt was made to disperse the gathering, apparently in order to prevent physical clashes that might well have occurred. The following day, however, ABRI spokesperson Brig-General Slamet Supriiyadi said the authorities 'would not hesitate to take stern action if Megawati loyalists went back on the streets'. [Jakarta Post, 17 April 1997]
In a display of the New Order's lack of confidence in the election exercise, the regime has gone to extraordinary lengths, introducing a string of new rules which ensure far greater control than ever before:
In some parts of the country, the PPP has waged a rearguard action against the election rules that discriminate so blatantly against the smaller parties. In Solo and elsewhere in Central Java, local PPP branches have decided to boycott the election campaign, though not yet, it seems, the election because the rules are so disadvantageous. To boycott the election itself would put it on a collision course with the regime.
PPP activists in Solo and many other towns in Central Java have however been waging a 'war of colours' with local government officials who ordered all walls, fences, monuments, public facilities and even trees to be painted yellow, because it is 'the traditional local colour'. In fact, yellow is the colour of GOLKAR. In a gesture of defiance, PPP activists repainted everything a neutral white. The district chief then alleged that such repainting was 'illegal' without government approval. But this has not halted the battle. Joining the 'war of colours', local pro-Megawati supporters have re-painting everything red and white, the colours of the Indonesian flag.
A local academic, Andrik Purwasito, sees the conflict as a symptom of GOLKAR's declining popularity. 'In the villages, there are warnings that GOLKAR will have a difficult time dominating this election.' [Sydney Morning Herald, 19 March] This local spat has provoked comment in the national press and has served to highlight dissatisfaction at the way local officials use their position to promote the government party.
The establishment of KIPP, the Independent Monitoring Committee, in March last year drew attention to the need for independent monitoring. As things stand, control at every stage of the elections is the monopoly of the government's Election Implementation Board. Even the contestants play no role which in fact leaves the two small parties out in the cold because all officials are members of GOLKAR. Even supervision of vote-counting is in government hands.
The emergence of KIPP, chaired by senior editor of the banned weekly, TEMPO, Goenawan Mohamad, with lawyer Mulyana W. Kusumah as secretary, prompted many other groups to set up monitoring groups. The fact that there are 300,000 polling booths makes this a formidable task for groups with very limited resources.
KIPP volunteers plan to monitor the final stages of the election in eight cities: Pematang Siantar, Palembang, Bandarlampung, (all in Sumatra), Jakarta, Cianjur, Semarang and Malang (all in Java) and Ujung Pandang (South Sulawesi). [Republika, 17 March]
It is expected that foreign observers will go to Indonesia for the purpose of monitoring the elections. One group, organised by the San Francisco-based Global Exchange, has announced its intention to go. But the authorities have declared that it will brook no such 'meddling' in its internal affairs. Army chief-of-staff General Hartono said that his men will arrest foreign observers who make any attempt to 'intervene' in the process. He warned people not to come to Indonesia as tourists and then start observing the elections. The armed forces were part of the election supervisory mechanism, he said, and would take action on the spot against anyone straying from the rules. [Jawa Pos, 19 March]
Although the elections are profoundly unfair in Indonesia, conducting Indonesian elections in the occupied territory of East Timor is in breach of international law and in defiance of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. Elections have been held three times in East Timor, in 1982, 1987 and 1992. The Suharto regime pronounced a 99 per cent turnout (on one occasion, the turnout was higher than 100 percent!), claiming that this was proof that the people of the territory support integration. It is of course no such thing.
There is heavy pressure on people to go to the polling stations and vote, preceded by compulsory voting 'rehearsals' conducted by the security authorities. For anyone to stay away, or worse, openly oppose the election would court disaster for the individual and his or her community. It remains to be seen how the population of East Timor will respond this time round. While the 1996 Nobel Prize for Bishop Belo will have emboldened people to take a stand, the fact is that since the Nobel Prize was announced, the occupation forces have further intensified the level of repression, which could make it even more difficult for anyone to resist the pressure to vote. For the security forces, anything less than a huge turnout will puncture their claims of support for integration. Election day will certainly be a day of unbearable tension and pressure for the long-suffering people of East Timor.
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign. We hope this will be of use in the run-up to the elections on 29 May, especially to brief journalists in your country who go to Indonesia to cover the event.
TAPOL. the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road,
Surrey, CR7 8HW
Phone: 0181 771-2904
Fax: 0181 653-0322