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General runs for President in Indonesia JAKARTA - As he flew over the coal mines and shrimp farms that dot Indonesia's part of Borneo island, a smiling Gen. Wiranto couldn't contain himself. ``Did you see how they touched me?'' he said. ``It was as if I was Michael Jackson and they were my fans.'' Wiranto had come from a campaign rally in this gritty industrial town 750 miles northeast of Jakarta, where supporters jostled to touch him and chanted ``Long live Wiranto.''
Wiranto has swapped one life for another - from a general indicted for human rights abuses to a presidential contender in the messy, imperfect democracy that has replaced military dictatorship in this vast nation of 13,000 islands and 210 million people. His candidacy is partly a reflection of the disenchantment with democratic reforms since the ouster of ex-dictator Suharto in 1998, and a perception that associates of the former strongman, including his old Golkar Party, are better equipped to bring stability and prosperity to Indonesia.
Still, polls give him little prospect of victory over President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the July 5 election, suggesting that a military background is no guarantee of success. Wiranto was military chief until he was fired in 2000 over charges of human rights abuses in East Timor. But four years later, this is no longer an electoral issue. Instead, supporters see the 56-year-old as a patriot whose military background, boyish good looks and folksy demeanor make him an ideal candidate to challenge Megawati.
He has spent the past six months traveling across the nation, chatting up party loyalists, posing for photos and singing songs from his album ``For You, My Indonesia.'' He has written a book, ``Witness in the Storm,'' defending his record, and has hired two American advisers. ``I know what Suharto and Wiranto can do. They are tough,'' said Yani Susilowani, a 48-year-housewife from Bontang. ``What evidence do we have that Megawati has done anything? Everything that Suharto built is now in ruins. People are suffering.''
The remark reflects a widespread nostalgia for the 32-year Suharto regime which was marked by massive corruption and brutality but also by economic prosperity and relative stability. Wiranto's candidacy alarms democracy advocates who have been seeking to reduce both Golkar's and the military's influence in politics - a difficult task given the fact that Golkar is seen likely to win the April 5 parliamentary election that precedes the presidential vote, and that scores of retired military officers are running for seats.
``The institutions of democracy have been hijacked by the old forces that operated under Suharto,'' said Asmara Nababan, a rights activist who has researched Indonesian democracy. ``It's disappointing but it's a result of the divisions among the reformists who promoted change. We still have elites in control just as we did during Suharto.'' If Golkar's leader, parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung, loses his appeal against a corruption conviction in the coming days, Wiranto would have a good chance of succeeding him.
But polls show Megawati leading with about 15 percent support over a slew of rivals, including Wiranto, at between three percent and eight percent. ``You shouldn't exaggerate Wiranto's success,'' said William Liddle, an Indonesian expert from Ohio State University. ``Golkar presidential nominations ... are mainly about money politics. Wiranto's popularity hasn't been tested.'' A son of a poor teacher in Central Java, Wiranto joined the army and rose through the ranks over three decades to become a key aide to Suharto.
When pro-democracy protesters forced Suharto from office, Wiranto was credited by current U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and others with restraining his troops and supporting democracy. But soon thereafter, Wiranto was linked to human rights abuses in East Timor, where Indonesian troops killed 1,500 Timorese in 1999 following a pro-independence referendum. As a result, Wiranto was fired and last year was indicted by U.N. prosecutors in East Timor. He is on a list of those whose U.S. visa applications must be vetted in Washington before being granted.
Wiranto dismisses the charges as part of a wider conspiracy to undermine his candidacy. He says he tried to stop the violence in 1999. ``These allegations are crazy,'' Wiranto said. ``Bigger political interests are bringing this up to destroy my character.''



Posted in Elections @ 11 February 2004 00:02 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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