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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters

By Robin Paul Ajello And Jose Manuel Tesoro/Jakarta

Indonesia's Elections: History in the Making Decision '99 Only a slow vote can spoil Indonesia's free and triumphant elections

The Parallel View Flashback to the 1955 ballot

'I will be the one. Why not?' Abdurrahman Wahid wants to be president

Democracy Meets Anarchy A political tussle stirs trouble in Central Java

The Election That Wasn't Most in Aceh were too frightened to vote

Money Talked, But How Loudly? Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters
IT WASN'T ENOUGH that ruling party Golkar was hissed and booed whenever its leaders went walking about during the campaign. Or that it has been the underdog for months. The party also endured the ignominy of having an auditor pore over its campaign finance books. "It was such a headache," complained Golkar treasurer Fadel Muhammad. The audit lasted hours.

A beancounter perusing Golkar's books is one of many things to savor about the election, an exercise notable for its relative transparency, thanks in large part to the efforts of the General Election Commission. Known by its Indonesian acronym KPU, it organized the poll. The election watchdog was widely criticized as toothless, but it implemented a new law that capped election donations at 15 million rupiah ($1,800) for individuals and 10 times that for corporations. Parties were allowed to spend 110 billion rupiah, or about $14 million, on campaigning. For the first time, voters got a peek at one of the most hidden yet critical elements of Indonesian elections: the money. Where it comes from and where it goes are this election's most controversial issues.

Thanks to the KPU, the public learned how much each party spent on advertising. The top three spenders were Golkar and two parties set up only this year - the Republic and People's Sovereignty parties. The latter, known as PDR in Indonesian, backs Adi Sasono, the ambitious cooperatives minister. As the table (below) shows, the PDR spent more on ads than the entire opposition, including the vote-catching juggernauts of Megawati Sukarnoputri and Abdurrahman Wahid. Which begs the question: where did such a young party find so much money? Another intriguing number: Golkar collected some $9.5 million in donations. If $214,000 went to advertising, where did the rest go? Much, says Muhammad, was spent on holding meetings and assisting regional chapters. Yet to a public long used to a ruling party that spent to keep itself in power, the PDR's sudden wealth and Golkar's flush treasury raised concerns about the impact vote-buying had on the election.

Not that other parties were innocent of bending the rules. Yet Golkar and PDRhave effective networks in the national and local bureaucracies. That means some of their officials have access to state funds. Last month, National Planning Agency chief Budiono hinted that "some groups" might have used money earmarked for social welfare. In the heat of the campaign, Wardah Hafidz, head of the non-government Urban Poor Consortium, went public with similar allegations.

She alleged Golkar dipped into a social welfare fund worth several trillion rupiah and used some of it for political purposes. In one incident, she says, Golkar officials availed themselves of soft loans via government economic agencies. In West Java, farmers' credit recipients were told that if Golkar won, they wouldn't have to pay back the loans. But if Golkar lost, they would be liable for the entire amount, $1,600. Sasono's ministry runs the farmers' credit scheme. According to one of Hafidz's witnesses, farmers in West Java were told credit would be available only if Sasono's PDR won two seats.

PDRofficials insist there is nothing wrong with helping people, especially during hard times. For his part, Golkar chief Akbar Tandjung told Asiaweek:"If [Hafidz] has evidence, please show it to me." He claims social welfare funds were distributed by "government not Golkar officials." However, he acknowledges that Golkar "gives help to people, such as obtaining government facilities - like credit from the banks." Adds his deputy Marzuki Darusman: "If there are any violations, they were committed by our fanatical members."

Were fanatics also behind a recent attack on Hafidz's office? In late May, a figure close to the PDR warned her to call off a press conference or he would create a religious war. She went ahead. Hafidz says she has documents to back up her allegations, but she only handed them over to the Electoral Supervisory Commission one week before the June 7 election, giving them little time to act.

Emmy Hafild, director of Walhi, an environmental group that also played poll watchdog, claims Golkar tried to bribe voters throughout isolated rural areas in Kalimantan, southeastern Indonesia and Sumatra. "Far worse than money politics," she says, "is the threat to farmers of having credit cut off." Walhi volunteers there also reported local officials threatening to sever farmers' credit lines or force them to pay back loans if Golkar did not win. Golkar took an early lead in many areas Walhi was investigating.

In the remote village of Girikerto near Jogjakarta, Golkar supporters reportedly went door-to-door distributing money. A member of Megawati's party reported a man coming to his house bearing a sample ballot with a black arrow pointing to Golkar, along with a yellow plastic envelope containing 50,000 rupiah ($6), a princely sum in Girikerto. Before the local poll monitoring committee, the bagman was forced to admit he was dropped in the area with some eight million rupiah to hand out. Though halted, the Golkar operation paid dividends. Part way into the vote tally, it was running strongly locally against Megawati's party.

Even if misuse of state facilities and vote-buying are conclusively proven, there may be no legal basis to punish Golkar and PDR. Hafidz requested that both parties be disbanded for engaging in money politics, but the election law says that can be done only if parties break campaign finance limits or turn a profit - not if they misuse funds or buy off voters.

The effect of these alleged shenanigans has yet to be seen, since, as Asiaweek went to press, only about 6% of the votes had been counted. But it is already clear the old tricks don't always work in the new electoral environment. Not only can voters freely voice - and check out - their worries about money politics, but enough among them now value their vote sufficiently not to sell it.

During the campaign, Hartono, a retired marine who lives in West Java, received a coupon for subsidized rice. Stamped on the back: Vote Golkar. "They're at it yet again," he sighed. Government shipments of cheap rice had arrived in the village. Locals said Golkar officials had promised more of the same if the party won. "But we're sick of their promises," says Amin, a neighboring farmer. "Now we're fed up." Many people accepted the freebies, but their votes were by no means assured.

With additional reporting by Dewi Loveard, Yenni Kwok and Tom McCawley

How much each party spent on advertising
1) Golkar $214,000
2) Republic Party $155,000
3) People's Sovereignty Party $66,500
4) Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle $16,250
5) Indonesian Democratic Party $5,800
6) National Mandate Party $5,000
7) National Awakening Party $1,000


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



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Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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