Week In The Life: Even the election observers fight to be first Election where even the observers argued Poll rivalry, and that's just the observers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AMONG THE local pundits and political leaders dominating Indonesian television coverage of last week's elections has been an unexpected "talking head" - that of John Gwyn Morgan, 65, a former classics master from Aberdare in South Wales. After a career working in the European Commission, Mr Gwyn Morgan postponed his retirement to lead the 170-strong EU Election Observer Unit, which has been monitoring the elections, the first genuinely democratic polls to be held in Indonesia for 44 years.

Mr Gwyn Morgan wakes at 6am on Monday 31 May to an alarming scene. From the window of his room on the 20th floor of Jakarta's Grand Hyatt, an epic event is unfolding - a massive parade of political parties, waving banners and motorbiking noisily around the huge roundabout below. "I was very apprehensive because when large numbers of people gather, total control is impossible," he says. "A spark might cause a conflagration. Anything could have happened."

He visits the official election media centre, where there will be chaos a week later, as incomplete voting results trickle in, provoking fears of cheating at the thousands of regional counting centres. "At that time, there didn't seem to be any problems," says the ambassador. "It looked like a Rolls- Royce, but subsequently it didn't run like one."


TRAINING SESSIONS are under way the next day for the EU's "short-term observers" - an assortment of civil servants, academics, and police officers, nominated by the EU's 15 member states and dispatched to observe the elections in the remotest corners of the archipelago. Each is armed with an interpreter, a driver and a mobile phone; some will encounter hostility. In eastern Borneo, an English woman is pursued by a mob of angry Europhobes; she escapes uninjured, but minus one of her elegant shoes.

One of the the trainee observers is a vulcanologist, keen to pursue her academic interests by only monitoring polling stations close to active volcanoes. "I told them, `We all have hobbies, but while you are here, you don't'." Request denied.


THURSDAY IS the biggest day of the campaign. More than a million flag- waving followers of Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the Democratic Party for Struggle, take to the streets. There is a nervous moment when the ambassador's car is trapped among them, but the parade goes off without incident. "Megawati's numbers were overwhelming," says Mr Gwyn Morgan. "But no one bashed the car, no one touched the flag. That's quite remarkable in a crowd like that." His earlier apprehensions abate.


FRIDAY IS the final day of the official campaign period and Golkar, the party created by Indonesia's former dictator, Suharto, is parading through the streets. Ghyliane Coste-Paul, the ambassador's press aide, reports being caught in her car as supporters of rival parties burn motorbikes and Golkar flags. Troops break up the riot with warning shots, and armed soldiers stand guard in front of the Grand Hyatt. "Thank God it's the end of the campaign," says the ambassador.

Over the weekend Jakarta is awash with foreign observers from Australia, Japan and the Philippines, as well as Europe. Supreme among the crusaders for democracy are the Americans, including a group from the National Democracy Institute. Mr Gwyn Morgan has crossed swords with them before.

The institute bitterly criticised European support for the elections in Cambodia, where he also worked. "They were pretty vicious," he says.

In Indonesia, relations are better, but a healthy spirit of competition prevails between the delegations. A debate rages over whether Mr Gwyn Morgan's delegation should present its findings before, or after, that of the Jimmy Carter group. The Europeans win the day and, to the great satisfaction of his team, it is the statement of Mr Gwyn Morgan, not that of the former US president, which leads the evening news.


MONDAY 7 June. Election day. With a cavalcade of journalists in tow, Mr Gwyn Morgan descends on local polling stations to observe the voting. Among the more controversial issues is the technical matter of the ink into which voters dip their fingers to show who has cast their ballot, to prevent multiple voting. But corners have been cut, and cheap local ink has been employed. As the polls open, the delegation staff dutifully test the ink. By 10am, it has washed off.

At one of the polling stations, in the middle of a rice paddy, the ambassador's presence is honoured with a battered old sofa. A few hours later, his aides point out that it has left its mark. "I had two perfectly round brown spots of mud on the back of my trousers," he says. "One on each cheek."

All over the country the voting has proceeded more peacefully than anyone expected, with no significant reports of fraud. Overnight, Indonesia has become the third biggest democracy in the world. Back in the delegation's office, the faxed reports are coming from the EU observers. Mr Gwyn Morgan retreats to the Hyatt to change into a clean pair of trousers.