Some 147 million eligible voters headed to the polls in Indonesia on Monday, April 5, 2004, in the first round of direct elections to choose representatives for Indonesia's senate, national and provincial legislatures, and local governing councils.
The option of being allowed to vote directly for the candidate of their choice is a new experience for Indonesians; past elections only permitting voters to select a party of their choice. Now, for the first time in the Nation's 58-year history, Indonesians are being asked to assess the qualities and strength of those who aspire to public office covering the range from local governing councils up to the office of the Nation's President.
A Celebration of Democracy
Indonesia's bold step forward in the democratic process, represented by the current election process, has been likened to a celebratory party. And, like any good party, the mix of participants is wide-ranging, with over 24 parties competing for votes.
Messy and unorganized? - To be sure! Highly unpredictable in its final outcome or, as described in the election-day edition of The Jakarta Post, akin to "buying a cat in a bag"? - You bet!
Are there monstrous logistical problems in distributing over 660 different ballots to nearly 600,000 polling stations spread over 17,000 islands? Next question? - But, we'll muddle through somehow! If Florida's experience in the last U.S. Presidential election is any kind of benchmark, the "bar" in assessing fair and open elections has not been set impossibly high.
We're Learning Democracy, One Vote at a Time
Perhaps aware of the daunting task that lies ahead of them, the Indonesians have wisely organized the present elections to play themselves over 2, and very likely 3 rounds over the coming 5 months.
Votes cast on Monday, April 5, will elect 550 representatives to the national parliament and, at the same time, decide which parties are entitled to participate in the next round of elections on July 5, 2004. Only those parties securing 3 percent of the seats in the national legislature will be allowed to field candidates in the July polls for Indonesia's first directly elected President and Vice-President.
As a safety gap and to ensure whoever runs the Nation can rightly claim a democratic mandate, rules require that should a Presidential candidate fail to secure 51% of the vote on July 5, an additional election round between the two presidential candidates securing the most votes will be held on September 20, 2004.
The past month of campaigning by 7,800 candidates seeking 550 seats of legislative power in Jakarta has passed remarkably smoothly. Incidents of over-enthusiastic electioneering, when they did occur, were quickly addressed by election officials urged on by lawyers representing the opposing political parties. These checks and balances of freely expressed political differences have proven themselves effective arbitrators of fairness and truth in the election process.
While the 3 - 5 month long series of polls has yet to run its course, early indications show that the Indonesian people are both ready and able to address a full-fledged encounter with democracy.
And, should our festival of democracy be occasionally over-spirited we'll accept that fact as the hallmark of a truly democratic process, certain in the knowledge that we'll emerge on the other side of the process a stronger, more stable and pluralistic society.
Democracy: We wouldn't have it any other way.
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