A Japanese team of monitors for Indonesia’s general election next Monday was officially launched Tuesday to ensure a fair, legal voting process in the nation, which is to hold its first free election in 44 years.

The 20-member election monitoring team, consisting of 14 civilians recruited from the general public and six public servants, will leave for Indonesia Thursday for their weeklong mission, according to the Foreign Ministry.

During the team’s inauguration ceremony Tuesday evening at the ministry, Vice Foreign Minister Shunji Yanai said it is significant for them to monitor the election at a time when the country is in the midst of nation-building.

The upcoming general election is considered a pivotal point for President B.J. Habibie’s democratic reform program after former president Suharto stepped down last May, putting an end to his 32 years of autocratic rein.

Under a new election law that took effect in January, nearly 128 million qualified voters are expected to cast their ballots at some 230,000 polling stations nationwide to elect a total of 462 legislators from 48 political parties.

Japan has provided Indonesia with some $30 million in grants-in-aid via the United Nations Development Program to help the country prepare for the election. Jakarta has welcomed international election monitoring teams and other kinds of support to ensure a free and fair election.

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