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Indonesia prepares for day of the generals JAKARTA - DESPITE enduring 32 years of brutal military rule, Indonesia has not lost its respect for gold braid and epaulettes. Two of the three front-runners in the presidential race are former generals, and both served the monolithic New Order regime that finally crumbled in 1998. General Wiranto, chosen this week as the Golkar party's presidential candidate, was Indonesia's armed forces commander until 2000 and responsible for the military brutality in East Timor.
His competitor, Democrat party candidate General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was the Jakarta command's chief of staff when the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) headquarters was raided by the military and its proxies, leaving an uncertain number dead. Like any good general, Yudhoyono conserved his forces until earlier this year, when he quit as chief security minister and launched a cunning raid on President Megawati Sukarnoputri's position.
Polls show Yudhoyono's popularity rocketing ahead of the other contenders - to 40 per cent according to one yet-to-be-published survey. Many tipsters predict he might even win outright the first round of the presidential election on July 5. Wiranto's popularity rating, by contrast, has languished in single digits, but most expect it will improve now he is the official candidate of Golkar, the party almost certain to win the most seats in the parliamentary election.
Sacked by then-president Abdurrahman Wahid for his role in the 1999 East Timor chaos, Wiranto has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the UN-funded Serious Crimes Unit. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and is unlikely ever to face trial. Australian National University academic Harold Crouch says there is a difference between the crimes sheeted home to Wiranto and Yudhoyono's alleged wrongdoing. Wiranto could be accused of crimes of omission, Professor Crouch said - as armed forces commander he bore ultimate responsibility for his troops' actions.
Yudhoyono, by contrast, was only chief-of-staff in Jakarta, and once told Professor Crouch he was proud of the way he managed to limit a riot linked to the PDI raid. "SBY (Yudhoyono) went on with the Aceh negotiations," Professor Crouch said, referring to the general's prolonged effort to prevent the military operation now under way in Indonesia's westernmost province. "I think he kept going for a lot longer than could be reasonably expected," he said. "He took risks there." In other liberal measures, Yudhoyono made it clear he opposed the splitting of Papua into three provinces, a policy that upset the Papuans.
Wiranto has also made it clear he wants to end the military operation in Aceh, and to deal with the troubles in Papua. Some pundits have written him off as collateral damage in the Yudhoyono advance, but some believe his personal popularity will improve. They think Wiranto will benefit from the nationwide machine of Golkar, the party that was once dictator Suharto's political machine, and an organisation that has a vast network of allegiances.
According to Mohammad Qodari of the Indonesian Survey Institute, a firm that has run reputable polls for some time, Yudhoyono is seen as a more able economic manager than the other presidential candidates, and more competent with security affairs. It's not good news for Ms Megawati, Mr Qodari says. His surveys have found seven in 10 Indonesians do not want their president to have a second term.
Former cabinet minister and Golkar presidential candidate Yusuf Kalla has become Yudhoyono's running mate in the presidential race, but the other two frontrunners - Wiranto and Megawati - have yet to arrange complementary vice-presidential candidates. Intense coalition negotiations will continue for some time. Jeffrey Winters, from Northwestern University in the US, has been travelling across Indonesia with the candidates. Western concerns over Wiranto's nomination by the Golkar party were counter-productive, Professor Winter said.
Indonesians were more likely to blame Wiranto for the much-lamented loss of East Timor than for human rights abuses. Any criticism by Australia or the US would be a feather in Wiranto's cap. Equally misguided were concerns that the candidacy of the two former generals presaged a return to military dominance, he said. "I see no indication whatsoever that the military is conspiring to bring itself back," Professor Winters said. The military as a whole was "lukewarm" about both Yudhoyono and Wiranto.

Posted in Elections @ 24 April 2004 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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