Polls open in Indonesia for electoral sham that passes as democracy

As the Indonesian elections get under way this morning, there will be a great deal of tension in the air, but not for any of the reasons usually associated with democratic politics. Long before the campaign even began, the outcome was clear: sometime in the middle of June, when the results are finally gathered in from across the vast archipelago, President Suharto's Golkar party will once again have won by a huge margin.

The two opposition parties will make a modest, decent showing, and the turnout will, as usual, be high, around 90 per cent. There is only one big question hanging over what the government calls its "Festival of Democracy": will it see further outbreaks of the violence that has made this the most lethal election campaign of President Suharto's 30-year reign?

Compared to last week, the last few days have been uneventful. On Tuesday and Friday, in cities all over Java, there were confrontations between police and campaigning Muslims; over the weekend at least 130 were confirmed killed in blazing riots in southern Borneo.

Yesterday, only two deaths were reported (police shot dead in a rebel ambush in East Timor). The Japanese embassy was evacuated after a bomb hoax - one of several scares which occurred throughout the day - and four men were arrested on suspicion of planning an explosion in a Jakarta shopping centre. If things go as swimmingly as that today, the government will feel a little bit less embarrassed by its choice of motto for this month's campaign: "Make A Success of the Elections".

Politics in Indonesia, as the slogan indicates, is all about appearances, and by this standard these elections have been a terrible failure. Even by the government's (assuredly conservative) count, the number of electoral fatalities rose last week to more than 250, though for the government the numbers killed are less worrying than their source - a growing dissatisfaction with President Suharto and the creaky electoral apparatus by which the regime legitimises itself.

Indonesia's elections are a fix, an elaborate and sophisticated one. Ballot-box stuffing, open bribery and intimidation are not widespread and in theory any party can achieve a majority in the 500-seat House of Representatives (DPR). In practice, a series of measures, imposed at every stage of the electoral process makes it impossible for anyone but Golkar to win more than a token proportion of the vote.

The range of those entitled to enter politics is strictly curtailed. Apart from Golkar, only two opposition parties - the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) and United Development Party (PPP) are legally permitted.

In April, 12 Indonesians received sentences of up to 12 years for their alleged subversion in organising the unofficial People's Democratic Party. The government effectively appoints opposition leaders - when Megwati Sukarnoputri, the leader of the PDI, began to emerge as a potential challenger in the next year's presidential election, she was deposed in a government- backed coup.

Golkar dominates public life and the media - civil servants, and families of military members are constantly urged to support it. Coverage of Golkar rallies by the state television company TVRI exceeded that of the opposition parties put together, according to a group of independent election monitors. Aspirant politicians are screened before being allowed to stand, and anyone suspected of ever having had Communist sympathies is barred - 200 people fell at this hurdle, most of them opposition politicians. The result is a highly compliant assembly characterised by Indonesians by the "five D's": datang, duduk, diam, dengar, duit - "turn up, sit down, shut up, listen, take the money".

Given these restrictions, the options are limited. Mrs Megwati has announced that she will boycott the votes - the proportion of spoilt ballots and abstentions will be one of the few statistics worth keeping an eye on. With such advantages, Golkar has to do very well to legitimise itself, and if it falls significantly short of its goal of 70.2 per cent, it will be a blow. But this will be an election remembered for violence.

"Never before," said the academic Mochtar Buchori, "have I seen such intense anger, jealousy and frustration."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape