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An informed electorate could cost Megawati JAKARTA - Heavyweight political parties have long held sway in Indonesia, but the emergence of a new breed of voter more likely to listen to the media or even mystics for guidance has robbed them of their former dominance, analysts say. Despite this shift from the days when parties extended influence into the lowest echelons of society, President Megawati Sukarnoputri has gambled on her credibility to win the backing of political titans ahead of September presidential polls.
"Victory will be in our hands," she declared after sealing a deal with three parties, including Golkar, the political tool of former dictator Suharto in the 30 years before he stood down in 1998. Her own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is now joined by Golkar - which swept to victory in April legislative elections - and the smaller United Development Party and Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party.
Previously in Indonesia, such a bloc - representing control over 307 of 550 seats in Indonesia's House of Representatives - could have guaranteed through fair means or foul the placement of its anointed leader as president. Now, as the country stages its first full democratic presidential elections, voters have broken the party stranglehold to emerge as an unpredictable force which analysts say could negate Ms Megawati's recent power-building exercise.
One of the driving factors behind this, they say, is the liberation of Indonesia's media from the methods by which the Suharto leadership gagged domestic press and restricted foreign reporters. "Voters are now more informed, partly due to information provided by international and national media and, unlike in the past, they can now carry out new political experiments," said political analyst Azyumardi Azra of Jakarta Islamic University.
Scores of unfettered newspapers, television channels and radio stations have sprung up in the years since Suharto, cutting their teeth on some of the world's biggest news stories, culminating in last year's Bali bombings. According to Dr Azyumardi, many media outlets were prone to editorialising their election coverage, urging readers behind either Ms Megawati or her challenger, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
But says Endi Bayuni, chief editor of the English-language Jakarta Post newspaper, such is the diversity of Indonesia's press and the new-found sophistication of readers, that voters are capable of making their own choice. "We are able to publicise stories about parties and candidates and disclose their weaknesses and strengths. This would have never happened if the press was constrained like in the 1990s.
"On balloting day, they will make a rational decision on who they think should be the president. It is healthy for Indonesia that the media are not trying to influence voters. Let the voters decide for themselves." It is this new-found maturity says Dewi Fortuna Anwar of Jakarta's Habibie Centre think-tank, which could cost Ms Megawati support as voters express doubts over her reputation as a reformer by trading cabinet seats for the support of the retrogressive Golkar.
"Our voters are a floating mass and they are now more educated. No one party in Indonesia, even Golkar which by far is the most organised party, has a well-established grip in the grass roots," she said. In what is perhaps a shrewd recognition of this, Mr Susilo has yet to involve his own Democratic Party in a coalition, stressing the need to heed the electorate.
"What I say also is, don't fail to listen to the voice of the people," he said after Ms Megawati confirmed her four-party pact. Opinion polls also suggest that voters are more likely to base their vote on candidates' policy instead of their politics, a wake-up call for the media-shy Ms Megawati. But, warned observers, even Mr Susilo's down-to-earth approach could flounder due to his lack of a mystical manifesto.
No matter how excellent the coverage of the media, says political analyst M.T. Arifin, many Indonesian voters still prefer to consult a dukun, or spiritual adviser. "The belief in advice from a dukun - whether false or true - in the grass roots is still quite strong, and this also applies to educated middle-class people."



Posted in Elections @ 24 August 2004 00:04 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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