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Indonesian Voters Voice Cynicism Ahead of Next Year's Elections - 2003-12-09

A survey of Indonesian voters ahead of next year's general and presidential elections has painted a picture of a population that likes democracy, but has found a bitter taste in the fruits of reform.

The survey, conducted by the Asia Foundation, shows that Indonesian democracy is stronger than many had feared. More than 90 percent of those polled said they intended to vote in next year's elections, a far higher figure than in most developed democracies.

Indonesia turned to democratic rule five years ago, after more than three decades of authoritarian rule by President Suharto. For some people, the benefits of the switch have been outweighed by the costs, including increased crime, and sectarian and separatist violence.

In response to one question, more than half the voters said they were willing to sacrifice some of their rights and freedoms for a strong Suharto-style leader who could restore order.

The survey shows that Indonesian voters share the worries of people in other democracies: the economy and violence in society top the list of their concerns.

Sandra Hamid is the Asia Foundation's Electoral Program Manager and one of the authors of the report. She has high hopes that next year's elections will entrench democracy. "There is a sign of an increase of number of people who understand about there is a strong connection between elections and democracy. I think is a very encouraging sign," she said.

But there is also a noticeable rise in cynicism about politics and politicians. The number of respondents who said they did not believe that those in government cared about the views of voters has almost doubled in the past four years, to 47 percent.

The report also contains some good news for President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is currently the front-runner in the run-up to next year's presidential election. Almost half of the poll respondents say she is doing an excellent or good job of running the country. The Asia Foundation says those statistics indicate a president who is facing problems, but not a crisis.