Special Report: Indonesia Special: Quick Takes On The Election


[Name and address withheld. Ed.]

A NEW COALITION - Dr Gerry van Klinken, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane 7 June 1999 saw the first free elections since 1955. Fears of rioting and army intervention turned out to be misplaced. Out of 48 participating parties, only the New Order Big Three of Golkar, PDI and PPP did well, making the result look like a New Order election with a huge swing towards the PDI. The positive aspect of this result is that a new (coalition) government can now tackle reform with fresh legitimacy. On the downside, the PDI does not differ significantly from Golkar in policy terms, and so may be ill-prepared to govern an Indonesia in which a centralist, developmentalist approach no longer works.

GOLKAR RULES? - Dr Ross McLeod Department of Economics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University, Canberra Golkar benefited greatly from being the only political party that had been permitted in the past to build up a functioning electoral machine at the village level - in particular, in the outer islands, where votes carry a heavier weighting in terms of parliamentary seats. Moreover, Soeharto's Golkar derives kudos from bringing very significant material benefits to the broad mass of the population, notwithstanding egregious cronyism, corruption and nepotism. The party now appears potentially capable of putting together a coalition strong enough to retain power, in which case the peacefulness and optimism of the campaign period may give way to frustration and violent demonstrations.

THE IMPACT ON EAST TIMOR - Dr George Quinn Southeast Asia Centre, Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra As United Nations personnel fan out from Dili into the violence-racked East Timor countryside, the tempo of talk between pro- and anti-integration leaders has quickened. The two key words in these talks are security and reconciliation. In political terms this translates into disarmament and power-sharing. On 18 June, resistance leaders Xanana Gusmao and Leandro Isaac, and pro-integration leaders Joao Tavares and Domingos Soares signed a disarmament agreement committing their followers to hand in their weapons, including traditional and home-made weapons, to the Indonesian police. The Church-sponsored Dare process, stalled since mid May, has resumed and will culminate in talks involving pro- and anti- integration leaders in Jakarta at the end of June. It is likely that in these talks the two sides will circle warily, and unpredictably, around the question of power sharing in a post-ballot government. As Indonesia moves with new confidence towards open, abrasive democracy, East Timor looks set to enter a period in which it must make the outcome of the UN ballot work, and this will almost certainly mean a government of national unity and the dampening of political activism in the territory.

THE ARMY - Dr William Case, School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane We are accustomed to being told that Indonesia is a place of great diversity, indeed, worsening divisiveness, with even national unity now at risk. We are told that mass populations, left to themselves, dissolve readily in primordial hatreds, especially when their passions are politicized during election periods. And thus, we are told, it is only the firm hand of the military, in conjunction with the bureaucracy, that can check these mass sentiments and keep the country together. For me, the outstanding feature of Indonesia's 1999 election stems from the fact that in contrast to last general election - held in 1997 under the New Order-the military intervened little. This was perhaps attributable to its newly diminished stature or to its umbrage over Habibie's offer of independence to Timor. But whatever the reason for the military's inactivity, when mass electorates took to the polls on June 7, they participated peacefully. I toured several dozen polling stations near Jogjakarta that were staffed by volunteer officials, party observers, and a security guard or two. And in their midst, a bloc of several dozen voters typically sat waiting their turn, clearly taking seriously the weighty choices they were to make. Results were duly announced soon after polls closed, the totals recorded on sign boards, then held aloft for all to see. Reports suggest that this pattern was the same throughout most of the archipelago. What this election provides, then, is evidence for those who contend that mass populations, when spared elite-level manipulations, can perform in responsible ways. One thus hopes that as elites now reintroduce themselves into the election processes for the president, they will perpetuate this same sense of commitment and restraint.

WATCHPOINT: Keep watching for further developments.


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