Parliament on 28 January approved the legal foundation that will govern the new political party system and the ‘99 election. A complete draft of the law had not yet emerged by mid-February. Here we note some points crucial for the outcome and credibility of the election.
With over 140 parties there will be clashes over who has the right to use similar names and symbols.
To be eligible to participate, parties must have executive boards in 9 (out of 27) provinces, and in half the towns and districts in each of those provinces.
New parties will need at least 10 seats in the national assembly to stand at the 2004 election.
An advisory team of 11 reputable individuals headed by Dr Nurcholish Madjid has been appointed to consider applications by the 140+ political parties to compete.
Candidates will be elected proportionally by province (thus not on a district basis as initially envisaged), but a party's winning candidates will be chosen on the basis of district results.
Managing the election
Election committees (KPU) at various levels will manage the campaign and election. All parties are represented, but government retains 50% of the votes. This is an improvement. However, some party seats will go to Golkar, so the government is likely to have a majority.
Independent Indonesian and international observers will be permitted to monitor the election. Management of the election will be more transparent than ever before. The risk of getting caught for those tempted to intimidate voters will be far greater.
The armed forces
The number of unelected Abri seats in the People’s Consultative Assembly MPR (super-parliament) has been reduced from 75 to 38. But this could still make the armed forces the 5th or 6th biggest faction in the MPR! In provincial and local assemblies they have been reduced to 10% of the seats.
Parliament could not agree on whether civil servants should be politically neutral. The government then issued a compromise regulation, one it modified two days later. The regulation allows civil servants to vote and, provided they take leave from office, to join political parties. The revised regulation allows for one year of leave on basic pay. However, the ‘neutrality’ of the civil service can still be easily circumvented. Local civil servants could have their spouses or children run for office, or just take leave and accept payment from Golkar or other parties to make up for salary loss.
Electing the president
The new MPR will have 700 seats (old MPR 1000).
238 Seats will be appointed (old MPR 575), including 38 military, 135 regional and 65 group representatives.
Two big questions remain. Who will choose the 65 group representatives - newly elected national and local assemblies, or the present Golkar and army controlled assemblies? The law says they will be decided by the groups themselves! By what procedure will the new MPR elect the president? For example, if there are many candidates, will the candidate with the most votes win, or will a 50% + 1 majority be required?
Provincial and local elections
Local politics has the best prospects for empowering ordinary Indonesians and for giving the election credibility. Provincial and local assemblies will be elected at the same time as national assemblies, but there has been almost no public debate on how this will happen.