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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Indonesia elections good for business
By Rachel Harvey
BBC correspondent in Jakarta

Indonesian election campaigners
Have T-shirt, will campaign for my party
Indonesians go to the polls on 5 April to elect representatives at local, regional and national levels.

With 24 parties and 147 million registered voters, it is a huge logistical exercise and for some people it is also very good business.

Hargito loves election time. He's not so concerned about who wins because for him it's all about taking part.

Hargito runs a business in Jakarta supplying merchandise to political parties.

This year there are 24 parties and more than 450,000 candidates.

He is doing very nicely thank you - his company produces a range of products from baseball hats to watches with prices starting at 4,000 rupiah ($0.50) for a simple T-shirt while a leather jacket in party colours - a must-have item for ambitious political operators - goes for 750,000 rupiah ($90).

Free goodies

April - Legislative polls, contested by 24 parties
July - Presidential poll, contested by parties that win at least 3% of vote in legislative polls
September - Possible run-off if no-one wins 50% of total and 20% of votes in at least half the provinces

Of course, the real trick is to get your party goodies for free and that's not as hard as it sounds - in fact it's remarkably easy.

All you have to do is turn up at a party campaign rally and odds are you will be given a free T-shirt, a snack, a bottle of water - possibly with the party logo on the label - and perhaps a pack of cigarettes.

A friend of mine is trying to see whether he can collect free T-shirts from all the parties before polling day. At the present rate he'll make it with days to spare.

Handing out sweeteners to encourage people to attend political rallies is nothing new in Indonesia and it's not just free food and souvenirs - hard cash gets distributed too.

Young boy at a Indonesian campaign rally
Voters get plenty of incentives to attend party rallies

If you want to ensure a good turnout for the cameras, the easiest way to do it is to rent a crowd - literally.

There's no shortage of willing bodies ready to be recruited - for the right price of course.

Some savvy operators make a living out of moving from one rally to the next.

The specialists are the motorbike taxi drivers. Heru has been riding at rallies since the start of the campaign on 11 March. He puts on the appropriate party T shirt, ties a matching party flag to the back of his bike then rides through the streets making as much noise as possible on behalf of his sponsor of the moment.

Money talks

Heru says different parties have different rates. For instance, President Megawati's party, PDIP, gave him just 10,000 rupiah whereas the Golkar party, which held power under the authoritarian rule of former President Suharto, offered twice that amount.

If you can get a friend to ride pillion, then you'd probably get more like 50,000 rupiah.

Of course the key question is whether all the inducements will really influence the way people vote.

Smita Notosusanto, who works for an electoral watchdog called the Centre for Electoral Reform, doubts it.

She takes a pragmatic approach to the issue: "I actually think it's OK for people to accept small gifts," she says, "as long as they still believe their vote is secret."

That suits Hargito just fine. As long as the political parties continue to buy merchandise from him, he doesn't care too much what they then do with the goods.

He's already distributed more than two million T-shirts, but Hargito is looking well beyond the vote in April.

Indonesians go to the polls again in July to elect their President. The election gravy train just keeps on rolling.

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