June 28, 1999
Volume 51, No. 34
Carter Center update:
No violence mars Indonesia's 'free and fair elections,' the first in some 50 years
"A proud moment in Indonesia's history" is how President Jimmy Carter described that country's June 7 parliamentary elections. Through the process, some 112 million people voted on candidates for a new lower house of Parliament. Those 462 elected representatives, and 38 appointed military representatives, will form part of a 700-member upper house that will elect a new president in November for a five-year term.
Former Indonesian President Suharto, who headed the country's ruling Golkar party for 32 years, was forced to resign last May after riots rocked the capital following Indonesia's economic collapse. He was replaced by B.J. Habibie, who promised the Indonesian people he would hold free and fair elections within a year. An opposition party was the leading vote-getter in this month's election, with the Golkar party in second place and three other parties making a good showing as well. "Domestic peace, political stability and economic recovery depends on success in this first step toward choosing a new Parliament and then a president," said Carter.
Heading a group of some 100 international observers, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were accompanied to Indonesia by political and regional experts from some 23 countries for the mission organized by The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
In preparation for the June 7 elections, The Carter Center and NDI monitored the electoral process in Indonesia for several months, reviewing development of the voting registration system, campaigning strategies of candidates and functions of domestic election monitors. After arriving in Jakarta on June 3, Carter Center and NDI observers spent two days in briefings with Indonesian election officials, domestic monitors and representatives of the major parties. They then broke into 40 teams to meet with local election officials and party representatives in 26 of the country's 27 provinces. On election day they visited hundreds of stations to witness poll openings, voting and reporting of results. Some 300,000 domestic election observers also participated, covering the world's fourth most populated country, which comprises thousands of islands and more than 220 million residents. Although there was concern about potential violence, election day remained relatively peaceful.
"Our delegates were at the polls to support the people's desire for peaceful, positive change," said Carter. "Indonesians have voiced a clear commitment to a more open form of government and to a democratic electoral process. This is the first time in almost 50 years that Indonesians have been able to express their will freely and without intimidation."
Asked what he thought the elections accomplished, Carter replied, "I don't think there's any doubt that the election will bring an end to violence and ethnic disturbances. It will open up the door to almost immediate economic improvement where foreign investors will be willing to come in." Indeed, encouraged by preliminary signs of election success, the International Monetary Fund immediately pledged to provide a $450 million loan to Indonesia, the value of Indonesian currency increased and the local stock market surged 12 percent.
"Given the size and importance of Indonesia in Asia, this striking move toward democratic government changes the balance of forces in the region strongly in favor of democracy," added Charles Costello, director of The Carter Center's Democracy Program.
*NDI, based in Washington, and The Carter Center have conducted programs to support open and credible elections in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Americas and the Middle East. Additional information about The Carter Center is available at <www.cartercenter.org>. To learn more about NDI, visit its web site at <www.ndi.org>.
Ann Carney is associate director of public information at The Carter