Indonesia on Saturday was making last-minute preparations for its historic polls, the first since the fall of strongman Suharto, as the country took a two-day rest following boisterous campaigning.
Election officials admitted there were still a few problems to be resolved ahead of Monday’s vote, but said everything would be ready in time.
The chairman of the General Elections Commission, Rudini said the Commission had checked all the equipment including telecommunications and computer networks, the Jakarta Post reported on Saturday.
“Only in Jakarta are we still facing some problems,” Rudini told reporters after meeting President B J Habibie.
“It’s ironic that many poll tool kits are incomplete here, such as missing nails to be used to punch the ballots and ink.”
Some 130 million Indonesians go to the polls on Monday to choose from an array of 48 parties in the freest elections in four decades. They will be voting for a new parliament as well as provincial and district assemblies, and willindicate their choice by punching one hole into their party’s logo printed on a huge sheet bearing all 48 party symbols.
During Suharto’s 32-year reign, only three parties were allowed, one being his Golkar party, which swept the board in each of the last six elections, buoyed by the obligatory vote of all civil servants and their families.
Suharto stepped down in May 1998, crushed by a wave of popular anger at his iron-fisted rule and corrupt government, just months after being elected unopposed for a seventh term.
Apart from the lingering distrust of the electoral system, one of the biggest problems facing organisers has been the geography and underdeveloped infrastructure of parts of the far-flung archipelago which stretches 5,000 km along the equator.
A total of 320,000 polling stations will be opened in the country’s 27 provinces from 8:00 a.m. and will close at 2:00 p.m.
Most of the polling stations will only be set up from Sunday in schools and offices. “The earlier we set up a pollingstation the greater the chances for some kind of intervention by anyone wanting to rig the polls,” said Indra Indrawan, from the Press centre set up by the Election Commission (KPU).
Civilian guards will be posed at each polling station, while police and military back-up will be on stand-by in troubled regions, he told AFP.
Ballot boxes will also be moved under guard to the counting stations, with civilian guards, observers and local people all due to keep a careful eye on them.
Several areas such as East Timor, Aceh and the Spice islands of Maluku have seen bloody unrest in past months due to political or religious tensions. But defying all the dire predictions, the 17-day campaign period passed off without major violence, although Golkar supporters were repeatedly stoned and heckled, leading troops to open fire in Jakarta on the last day Friday.
Jakarta military commander Major General Djadja Suparman thanked residents for the largely peaceful campaigning.
“We are proud of this because it canprove to the outside world that the unfavorable prediction about the campaign period has proven to be incorrect,” he was quoted by the state Antara news agency as saying on Saturday. Complying with KPU rules, all parties had stripped Jakarta of their flags and posters by early Saturday morning, signalling the start of an official two-day rest from campaigning. Some 400 foreign observers are to monitor the polls for the first time, fanning out across the country, with former US President Jimmy Carter heading up a 100-strong delegation from the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).
Observers have sad Golkar could still emerge as the biggest party in parliament but without a majority, leaving other front-runners the chance of building an anti-Golkar alliance.