07/03/2004, 00.00
indonesia - dossier
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Presidential Candidates: Many Gifts, Many Votes

Voters are promised free circumcisions, books for mosques, fertilisers for farmers, and puppet shows for all

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vote buying rather than arguments over policies seems to best characterise the ongoing Indonesian election campaign. In addition to heated TV debates, candidates have slugged it out going from village to village and town to down offering and promising anything and everything just to become the country's next president. In so doing they have played on the hopes of the poor and on the religious beliefs of the population.

In the northern suburbs of Jakarta, President Megawati's Indonesian Party of Struggle (PDIP) has handed out rice, fish and pre-cooked spaghetti. "Such gifts show how good Megawati is," a party activist said. "Megawati is touched by the plight of the poor. This is why we vote for her". In a country where circumcision can be expensive, Megawati's party wants to provide poor families with the means to do it for free. The PDIP has already given US$ 50,000 to 60 mosques on the northern side of Jakarta. And Megawati supporters said that they were induced to take part in a rally in the capital thanks to gifts of US$ 5, free lunch and t-shirts.

Growing criticism has been levelled at Megawati and her party for buying voter support. Many activists stress that the transition from Suharto's dictatorship to democracy has cleared the way for political corruption. According to Luky Djani of Indonesian Corruption Watch, "it all depends on a voter's needs. Farmers might get tools or fertiliser. An Islamic boarding school will get books and money for a new building."

Not to be outdone, the other candidates indulge in the same habit. In East Kalimantan region, a

rally for retired Gen. Wiranto, the candidate of former dictator Suharto's Golkar Party (winner in last April parliamentary elections), ended with a prize draw for TV sets, stereo systems and motorcycles. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono paid for a traditional puppet show promoting his candidacy.

In spite of all the evidence, politicians reject any suggestion that they are bribing voters claiming instead that it is all charity. According to Beni Prananto, Wiranto's campaign treasurer, "we have to take care of our supporters."

Under the existing election law, candidates are not allowed to give money or promise monetary rewards to influence the outcome of the vote. None the less, the authorities recognise that many voters are unfamiliar with the law and do not report instances when it is broken. "We know they all give money to their supporters, but it is not easy to prove they give it in exchange for votes. The election law is not perfect and the rules on money politics are ambiguous," said Komaruddin Hidayat of the Election Supervisory Body. (MR)

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See also
Ramos-Horta loses E Timor presidential election, Guterres and Ruak in runoff
Filipino Church and civil society for "good governance" and the fight against corruption
Jakarta, bribes on Islamic pilgrimages: six years for former minister of religions
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