JAKARTA ~ Campaigning for Indonesia’s third general elections since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship got underway this week with the global economic crisis squarely at the forefront of voters’ concerns.
Representatives of 38 parties met at an exhibition hall in the capital Jakarta to sign a joint declaration promising a peaceful campaign period leading up to the April 9 polls in the world’s third-largest democracy.
The vote is taking place against slowing growth and rising unemployment in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as demand for Indonesia’s commodities exports plummets amid the world financial meltdown.
“We want an open campaign that is peaceful and manageable,” National Election Committee head Hafiz Anshary said.
“If there are any violations there’ll be administrative sanctions or punishment.”
With 171 million registered voters, major parties are expected to hold massive campaign rallies over the next 21 days and hundreds of thousands of police have been deployed to ensure security.
Indonesia has posted strong growth of about six percent a year since the end of the Suharto military dictatorship in 1998, marking the start of the “Reformasi” era of democratic change.
But while a handful of people have become incredibly wealthy and there is now a burgeoning middle class, millions of poor Indonesians have seen little change in their daily lives.
Many do not understand what they are voting for and parties have been criticized for failing to spell out their policies on key issues such as the economy, corruption and management of the archipelago’s vast natural resources.
Vote buying is rampant and candidates have complained that voters are offering to sell their support to the highest bidder.
The outcome of the April polls will have huge bearing on presidential elections set for July.
Parties need 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of seats in the 560-seat House of Representatives to be able to nominate their own candidates for president.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of the Democratic Party is seeking a second term on a platform of good governance, social stability and economic growth.