Indonesia’s election carnival kicks off

Festive mood belies unease over the high-stakes polls.

The grand carnival has begun.

Red-, green- and yellow-clad party faithful thronged the streets of the country, waving flags, tooting horns and banging drums as Indonesia started campaigning yesterday for parliamentary elections next month.

But the festive mood – and the pledge by parties for a peaceful campaign – betrayed the unease among the elite in what could turn out to be a long-drawn and messy affair.

The stakes in the general election are high, being seen as a crucial turning point that will culminate in the election of a new president later this year.

Parties that win at least 3 per cent of the votes on April 5 are eligible to nominate a candidate for the country’s first direct presidential vote three months later.

If no ticket wins an overall majority, then a two-way runoff will take place in September.

With none of the 24 parties expected to get near a 50-per-cent majority, the general election result will ultimately determine alliances for the presidential race.

But none of these permutations worried the wong ciliks or the poor as they turned out in full force yesterday to back the party of their choice.

In Jakarta, they were in an exuberant mood, converging on the landmark, Freedom Square, before a carnival-style motorcade through the city.

Supporters formed lines on motorcycles that snaked through the major road arteries to the city centre.

Party banners were hoisted on flagpoles, traffic lights and trees.

Trucks and floats decorated with flowers crawled down the main business thoroughfare, stopping every now and then to pose for the cameras.

Politicians used the occasion to fire opening salvos at their rivals and launch their party platforms.

The National Mandate Party led by presidential aspirant Amien Rais fielded a gruesome float featuring a hanged dummy.

Displayed were the words ‘Hang Corrupt Officials’.

The United Development Party, the main Islamic grouping, had a giant model of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca.

But clearly, the most dominant were the Big Two – Golkar and President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Leaders of both parties appeared briefly in TV advertisements yesterday.

In the streets, the two juggernauts brandished their wealth openly with strings of Jaguars and Harley Davidsons in their entourage.

Their floats were by far the biggest and most lavish, equipped with huge loudspeakers blasting deafening messages and pop songs as they sought to woo 147 million potential voters.

Ms Megawati, whose party logo is a bull with a white muzzle, is a front runner for the presidency.

But much depends on the outcome of the general election for the 550-seat national parliament where observers believe the PDI-P is likely to lose ground.

The incumbent’s husband Taufik Kiemas, a business tycoon and an influential PDI-P legislator, told The Straits Times: ‘Mark my words, we are going to win convincingly.

We will get 40 per cent of the votes.’

His rivals in Golkar were also in a buoyant and defiant mood.

Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung and his wife Krisnina Maharani travelled through North Sumatra on helicopter as they sought to canvass support.

Mr Akbar, who was cleared of corruption charges last month, said: ‘Golkar has been preparing for this election for a long time. There will be a very small margin of difference between us and PDI-P.’

The PDI-P won 34 per cent of the vote in the 1999 parliamentary poll compared with Golkar’s 22.5 per cent. Surveys in recent months suggests that this could change with Golkar strongly tipped to win.

Analysts believe both parties will together secure at least 55 per cent of the national vote in this election.

Ultimately, the two giants look set to dominate the show, with the Islamic parties and newly established ones finding it hard to make significant inroads.

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