March 27th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The PM, farmers, the FTA and the election

EDITORIAL: Telstra has lost its way

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Spending signals start of election campaign

ANALYSIS: Australia-US trade deal a monumental folly

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Lilies of the field / Speaking conspicuously

MURRAY RIVER: Science overturns need for big environmental flows

INDONESIAN ELECTIONS: Indonesia taking control of its own destiny

How alcohol leads to harder drugs (letter)

The Passion of the Christ (letter)

DOCUMENTATION: IVF - Playing against a stacked deck

MEDIA : Join the Fairfax Club

ASIA: Behind the India-Pakistan thaw

ECONOMICS: Eight centuries of wavy prices

BOOKS: JAMES BURNHAM, by Samuel Francis

FILM REVIEW: Shattered Glass

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Indonesia taking control of its own destiny

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, March 27, 2004
It's a busy year for elections in Asia and nowhere is the situation more complex than in Indonesia.

Indonesia is a highly diverse and complex country and the desire to give the regions more control over their own destiny has led to a vast increase in the number of candidates involved in various elections. Two sets of elections will take place: one for representative bodies, and one for president.

On April 5, Indonesia will hold elections for its national House of Representatives, for provincial Houses of Representatives, and for the new Regional Representative Council.


The numbers are daunting - these elections will be held in about 2000 electoral districts involving up to 475,000 candidates representing 24 political parties.

It is estimated that about 143 million voters will take part requiring 500,000 voting stations manned by 3.5 million staff and protected by one million security officers. About 900 million ballot papers will need to be printed, distributed and retrieved.

On July 5, Presidential elections will take place. For the first time, Indonesians will directly elect a Presidential and Vice-Presidential ticket. Complex criteria will determine whether a ticket has won this election. If there is no clear winner, a second round run-off between the two leading tickets will be held on September 20.

Complicating matters for voters is that they must become familiar with not one, but three new election systems: an Open List Proportional Representation system for the House of Representatives and Provincial uses of Representatives; a Single Non-Transferable Vote system for the Regional Representative Council; and a Two Round Majoritarian system for the Presidency.

For the first time in the House of Representatives and Provincial Houses of Representatives elections, voters must vote for a party and may vote for a candidate as well.

However, when they cast a vote in the Regional Representative Council election, they must vote only for a single candidate. All of this requires an immense voter education campaign.

If Indonesia manages to conduct these elections successfully, and overall peacefully, it will be a very notable achievement. Apart from the complexities mentioned above, there will be many other difficulties, including outbreaks of violence among contesting parties amid claims and counter claims of fraud and intimidation, and perhaps terrorist attacks from radical Islamists and others in organisations like Jemaah Islamiyah aimed at undermining and destabilising the whole liberal democratic process.

Since the last election in 1999, there have been some very significant changes and advances in Indonesian politics. The military has withdrawn from parliament and has adopted a doctrine in principle eschewing its Dwi fungsi (dual function) role involving it in socio-political matters.

There have been constitutional amendments passed through a largely corrupt parliament reforming political and governing processes by introducing such measures as direct presidential elections and regional autonomy - developments deemed impossible by some observers five years ago.

On top of that, political parties have undergone all sorts of changes, and a plethora of newspapers and other media outlets, as well as hundreds of pro-democracy NGOs and a number of trade unions, have appeared across the land.

While Indonesians are undoubtedly still disillusioned with many of their political leaders and the continuing corruption of many corporations and institutions, governmental, judicial and otherwise, they are also enjoying far greater political and intellectual freedoms and the very gradual but undoubted emergence of a more civil and civic society.

As long as the Indonesian polity remains tolerant and pluralistic, the economy remains open to the world and voters do not elect a gang of populist, narrowly-focused nationalists, Indonesia will slowly grow and prosper as foreigners bring capital and technology to its shores.

During a recent visit to Indonesia, it appeared that the economy was turning around and that people remained cheerful and optimistic. Many of the excesses of the economic boom are unwinding themselves.

Growing international confidence in Indonesia can be gauged by the first Indonesian global bond issue since the 1997 financial crisis. The move, designed mainly to test the waters, saw some US$1 billion worth of bonds sold, with the issue oversubscribed eight times.

While the outlook for foreign direct investment, needed to build factories to employ the ever-growing labour force, remains fairly subdued, the fact that international investors are taking a renewed interest tin Indonesia is a good sign.

  • Jeff Babb

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