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Icons, not issues, fill Indonesian campaign ads JAKARTA - He's 82, ailing, and doesn't get out much, but Indonesia's autocratic ex-president Suharto is all over TV screens these days in ads for a political party whose main campaigner is his tycoon daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana. The ads for next month's parliamentary election start with a housewife suggesting that viewers "don't think too much, just go for Suharto". Then farmers are seen saying that they crave a return of what is called the Suharto era of economic stability.
In the final scenes, Suharto's face materialises to loom behind Rukmana, whose nickname Tutut is popular among Indonesians. Just what she will do to restore the alleged good times of her father's era isn't specified. The ads for her PKPB (Duty and Concern for the Nation) party bear little resemblance to reality but are typical in a country where many voters are poorly educated. Parties know they need to keep their messages simple and heavy on symbolism.
"It's cunning, but it's their right. We need parties that also dare to say that, for instance, Suharto is a symbol of corruption," said Agus Sudibyo from the Jakarta-based Institute of the Free Flow of Information (ISAI). Suharto, who ruled for 32 years, was ousted in 1998 in an uprising against corruption and a collapsing economy triggered by Asia's financial crisis and poor economic management.
While the economy is growing again, employment remains high and many voters prefer to remember the long period of economic growth during most of Suharto's rule. They seemed to have forgotten widespread anger directed at the former general and his wealthy children at the time of his downfall. A total of 24 parties are contesting the April 5 parliamentary elections, which set the stage for a July presidential vote. Many are using television, a medium little used in previous elections, to bombard the country's 147 million voters. On any given day, about 230 political party ads run on the country's 11 channels.

Number game

Critics say the ads do the public a disservice. "They don't attempt to offer any method to solve our current problems. They're just making the election into a contest of memorising numbers," said Garin Nugroho, Indonesia's top film director who heads the Media Coalition for Peaceful Elections. Worse still is that many Indonesians are confused about the running of the vote. For example, the ballot is the size of an open broadsheet newspaper and will be wider than polling booths.
Analysts say most voters aren't savvy about issues and tend to decide on the basis of the personality of party leaders, their simplistic messages and the party's number on the ballot sheet. In her ads, Megawati, daughter of founding president Sukarno, gives voters a very simple instruction. "Punch the white snout!," she says in ads for her Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDI-P), which feature her in a bright red dress, the number 18, and the party logo of a black bull with fiery red eyes and a white nose.
On election day, PDI-P voters need to punch a hole in that logo, number 18 on the ballot paper. In almost all ads, the political party's number on the ballot paper is most prominent. For Tutut's PKPB, it is 14. Tutut told Reuters her ads were justified, ordinary people had told her they lived happily and ate well under Suharto. She was just reminding voters that her father backed her party. Many pundits say PKPB is a long shot, but may steal votes that would otherwise go to the country's second largest party, Golkar, Suharto's political vehicle during his rule.
Golkar's ads complete with its yellow colours and banyan tree symbol do not mention Suharto but the party tries to take credit for double-digit growth before Asia's 1997 economic crisis. Some parties like the tiny New Indonesian Alliance Party do challenge others' rosy messages, but cautiously. Without naming names, it criticises past and current leaders and says they ruled with "tricks and money politics". But the red-and-black ads of PDI-P dominate the airwaves, accounting for more than 40 percent of the aired spots so far, an ISAI survey showed. "It's a hit to the extent of kids spouting about the white snout," said Muhammad Qodari, research director of the Indonesian Survey Institute. "But elections are for adults and adults should be given reasons why PDI-P should remain in power".



Posted in Elections @ 24 March 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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