May 22, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Citizens organise themselves

Published: Sep 30, 2007

You had 8,000 volunteers who monitored 600 polling booths. What did they tell you about this election?

We were surprised so many volunteers filed reports to KIPP's office in Jakarta. What they found is not particularly dramatic, but it is consistent with the pattern used in previous elections. This is a telling fact. Basically the system is unfair and open to a lot of abuse.

The organisers of the polling stations were sometimes told to vote several times at different polling stations. Some polling stations were completely controlled by Golkar bureaucrats, who told people to punch one particular symbol.

Golkar says that alleged incidents of poll rigging were isolated.

I don't think these are isolated incidents. There is systematic fraud. Not that there are certain rules about how to break the election. But by having government officials organise the polling stations all the violations follow the same pattern. That of a power that has no real control from anywhere.

KIPP was in the field for the first time this year. What lay behind the concept?

The idea was not to legitimise the election, which was not fair anyway. The idea was to invite citizens to participate in organising themselves to protect their rights. Over the last 30 years we have lost the capacity to organise ourselves at the grass roots.

The other thing was to generate a framework for joint effort for organisations committed to democratic change. We didn't want to follow the Chinese debacle after Tiananmen, when democratic forces were scattered to nothing.

So we had a broader agenda. Before we come up with a common platform we have to learn to understand each other. There has been a lot of bickering among those groups.

How did you get those 8,000 people out there?

They sent the reports from public fax offices. Courageous young people who monitored the election without telling everybody that they were doing it for KIPP. Sometimes we had not known of KIPP activity in for example North Sulawesi, but suddenly we got reports from them.

There was public anger about all this fraud. There's an increasing awareness that fraud cannot just be left to the political parties. Except East Timor, we tried to cover as much of Indonesia as possible.

Golkar won 74% of the vote, the PDI was crushed with only 3%, the PPP got 23%. Do these figures mean anything, really?

The only meaningful figure is the PDI one. Maybe also the PPP result. I don't know about the Golkar result because I'm always suspicious about how they can get it that high. But the PDI destruction was phenomenal. It signifies the strength of support for Megawati. It also signifies that people are aware of what the government did to the party.

How would you rate the credibility of this election in general?

The election had nothing to do with real power. Even if you get a certain number of seats in parliament it will be politically insignificant because the parliament means nothing. But people really didn't care what kind of parliament they were going to get. It is a pity of course that those who went to the streets to support PPP will now find that their representatives in parliament do almost nothing to protect their rights. The representatives will not become more independent of the government.

The election had more to do with the excitement of having a chance to express their feelings, especially against the established order.

What would it take to make a credible election in Indonesia?

You cannot expect this government to change the way it conducts this or any election in the future. The best way is to create a real political movement among the populace, to make the people powerful enough to negotiate for a change and the way future elections are organised.

A popular movement like that would demand the abolition of the law on elections, which is unfair from the outset. It would demand freedom to organise political parties, and the removal of the bureaucracy and the army from the electoral process.

Is KIPP now going to freeze until the next election?

KIPP members are talking about remaining alert and want to start recruiting for the next election, so that instead of having only 8,000 we will have about 300,000 volunteers. This is a very ambitious programme, but people seem to be elated about what we learned from the past two years.

Goenawan Mohamad is the chairman of KIPP. He is a senior journalist. Harvard University's Nieman Foundation recently gave him a prestigious journalistic award.

Inside Indonesia 51: Jul-Sep 1997

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