Public apathy major stumbling block to elections in Aceh

Source – December 31, 2003
Polling station in the Baitussalam sub-district of Aceh (Politik Aceh)
Polling station in the Baitussalam sub-district of Aceh (Politik Aceh)

Luhur Hertanto, Jakarta – The problem of security is not the only stumbling block to holding the 2004 general elections in Aceh. Public apathy is also expected to be a major problem.

“This is because of the [Acehnese people’s] disappointment in the regional parliament and the regional government which it sees as having failed to resolve the prolonged armed conflict”, said the coordinator of the Aceh Election Monitoring Committee (Panwaslu), M. Ja’far, to journalists at the General Election Committee’s (KPU) offices on Jl Imam Bonjol in Central Jakarta on Wednesday December 31.

To date, efforts at socialising the elections which have been carried out either by the KPU, Panwaslu and the local government, have not been effective enough. The evidence being that there are still many public figures who do not understand the mechanisms of direct elections. “This is even more so among ordinary people”, explained Ja’far.

There is concern that because the socialisation of the elections has been inconsistent, the level of participation by Acehnese people in the 2004 elections will be less than 75 per cent of what has been targeted. “What [could become a cause for] alarm is if this level is less than 30 per cent, then the military emergency command will accuse the Acehnese people of not being pro-NKRI [supporting the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, read seeking to break away from Indonesia – JB] and this will become the grounds for extending the state of emergency there”, added the secretary of the Path to Peace Institute (ITP), Boedhi Wijardjo.

The irony at the moment is that there are many non-government organisations (NGOs) which want to socialise the elections but they are still being hindered by problems of obtaining authorisation. “I don’t recall exactly were they were from, [but] two of them [who have not obtained authorisation] were the Civil Society Alliance for Democracy and the Forum of University Chancellors”, said Ja’far.

It needs to be understood that since the state of emergency came into force in Aceh, all NGOs who wish to carryout any kind of activities in the region must obtain authorisation from the emergency military command. Conversely, two months ago Panwaslu Aceh (Election Monitoring Committee) issued a recommendation to the emergency military command for these two NGOs [to be allowed to conduct such activities].

Related to this, ITP and Panwaslu have urged the emergancy military command to make it easier to provide authorisation to NGOs who want to carry out activities to socialise the elections.

Meanwhile, when a member of the KPU with expertise on the issue of socialising elections, Valina Singka Subekti, was contacted to confirm the matter she said that the KPU is trying a new method of socialising the elections in Aceh. “We will do it though recitations of the Koran and religious activities” said Subekti. She was optimistic this method will be more effective in reaching people in conflict areas. (asy)

[Translated by James Balowski.]