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The Blind Learn About The Sound of Politics

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article was reprinted from The Jakarta Post.

Jakarta (JP): Abdurrahman Wahid "sounds" like an inconsistent politician who says one thing today and another tomorrow. Akbar Tandjung "sounds" like a person who does not know what else to say and keeps on repeating his remarks. Amien Rais "sounds" like a sincere person, while Hamzah Haz "sounds" like a true leader.

The above observations were made by blind youths who have been listening to the hustle bustle in the run-up to the June 7, general election by listening to radio and television broadcasts.

In a dialog held recently, the students of the state-run Centre for the Blind (PSBN) expressed their enthusiasm about the polls, and their wish that representatives from the 48 political parties would pay attention to them. They suggested candidates could visit centres for the blind to educate them about party platforms and in turn listen to the needs of the blind.

Muslim, a student at the centre, said it was the way for parties to help the blind "make the right choice." "They can help us vote for them," the 20-year-old who has minimal sight told The Jakarta Post. He emphasised that listening to radio and television broadcasts gave them a limited involvement in the campaigns, and questions remained about how the parties could "change our lives." "That is what we need to know from the parties," Muslim said at the dialog held at the school, which is located on Jl. Dewi Sartika No. 200 in East Jakarta.

The centre, which accommodates 53 blind youths, has 26 instructors. Subjects include religion, mathematics, Braille, the Indonesian language, handicrafts helpful for home industries and several types of massage. The students said they were looking forward to joining the polls, and were enthusiastic about what the government could offer them.

Hadi Rachmawadi, 25, said he was considering voting for the United Development Party (PPP) because it was an Islamic party, but would only do so if the party promised certain things. "I expect PPP to make a serious effort to get facilities for the blind installed, not only in social centres, but also in schools, universities, mosques and libraries," said the youth who wants to become a religious teacher. "Elevators in all buildings must have adequate space to accommodate wheelchairs," he said. "Buildings here, for instance, should have a 30- centimetre-wide wooden plank running from one wall to another to guide the blind as they move around."

According to a 1994 survey conducted by the Indonesian Association for the Blind, there are 3.2 million blind people nation-wide who are Braille literate. Of them, 800,000 live in Jakarta. Gozali, 25, said he had heard many political figures speak, but "nobody spoke like Abdurrahman Wahid." He said the leader of the National Awakening Party (PKB) "says one thing one day, and says another thing tomorrow. One can never be sure what he means when he says something."

With his unseeing eyes constantly blinking, Gozali said he had learned quite a lot about political figures simply by hearing them speak on the radio or TV. "Whether it's Gus Dur or Akbar Tandjung, they seem to be saying the same things over and over again," said the man who loves to listen to blues, jazz, Tom Jones and Andy Williams. "Amien Rais seems to be a sincere person and maybe there is something different the National Mandate Party (PAN) could offer us if he won (the presidency) ... (but) nobody can guess who will turn out to become this nation's president. Let's see."

Muslim added that so far, he had heard views from the following parties: PAN, PPP and the Democratic People's Party (PRD). "I think Pak Hamzah Haz is the true leader of PPP and I am particularly partial toward him. He speaks of the spiritual needs of the majority of the Indonesian people."

Lusita Sari Dewi, 23, said she had no idea about parties at all. She said: "All I know is that there are people who are good, and those who are not good." "Those who are not good, do not know how to behave to those who do not have the same good fate as they do ... I will not vote for such people."

When asked to comment on the issue of voting facilities for the blind, a PSBN instructor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that on June 7, people helping the blind to vote must come either from the voters' family or circle of friends. "Still, if the helper turns out to be a cheat and votes for a party the blind person does not want to vote for, I don't know what to say in that case... let's leave everything to God."

Soekirno of Indonesian Association for the Blind (Pertuni) said in early March the association sent the General Elections Commission (KPU) three suggestions concerning facilities that could be provided for a blind person to vote. "Only one was selected. That 'helper' suggestion. This, too, was made after a lot of confusion," Soekirno told the Post over the phone. He explained that earlier, R. Soedarmojo, a senior KPU executive, had insisted that helpers should be committee members at the polling places. "Later it was decided that helpers would be selected by the voters themselves." He said one of the two rejected suggestions was "embossing numbers in Braille on the ballot paper for the blind voter to feel and make his or her mark." "The suggestion was rejected. KPU said it would take a lot of money."