By James Balowski
In a surprise turn of events, on February 24 it was announced that the People's Democratic Party (PRD) has been officially registered as a political party.
Earlier, the body overseeing the election registrations had "postponed" a decision on the grounds that the PRD's application used "leftist" terms such as "people's social democracy" and "progressive revolutionary". The decision to register it followed a special meeting between three government bodies — including the notorious State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Bakin).
This is the first step in being able to contest the June 7 general election. In the next stage, an "independent screening body" under the Ministry of Home Affairs (known as the "Team of 11") will look into the party's headquarters address, party constitution, leadership and membership.
Although 104 parties have made it through the first stage, many will not be able fulfill all of the administrative requirements. Estimates of the number of parties which will be able to contest the election varies from 30 to 50.
In addition to the three officially sanctioned parties which were allowed during the Suharto era — the state party Golkar, the United Development Party and the government controlled Indonesian Democratic Party — 12 parties have so far fulfilled all of the requirements. These include the National Mandate Party led by Amien Rais, the National Awakening Party headed by Abdurrahman Wahid and PDI-Perjuangan led by Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The fact that the PRD's registration was approved by Bakin — which oversaw the witch-hunt against the PRD after it was accused of masterminding the July 27, 1996, riots in Jakarta — indicates that the regime may not attempt to hinder political parties from participating in the election.
With the major parties which are expected to get the lion's share of the vote having little or no policy differences with the Habibie government, the regime may have concluded that allowing parties such as the PRD to participate carries little risk. As well, allowing them to contest helps undermine widespread cynicism about the fairness of the election and bolsters international support for the outcome.