Indonesian parties halt street rallies in Jakarta

WITH violence escalating between rival supporters, Indonesia’s three political parties have agreed to stop holding large street rallies in Jakarta in the final stretch of the country’s election campaign.

A statement, signed by the three Jakarta-branch party chiefs on Sunday night just after the capital was hit by sporadic clashes between supporters of the ruling Golkar party and the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP), said campaigning in Jakarta would now be confined to dialogues in small sub-districts.

“We are taking measures to prevent the occurrence of any large-scale unrest in Jakarta,” Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) spokesman Amal Alghozali said yesterday.

He said that by restricting campaigns to sub-districts in Jakarta, it was easier for the security forces to monitor and control the situation.

“Having a big rally is a recipe for disaster because of the huge mass of people there,” he told The Straits Times. “With things hotting up, we don’t want to take any risks.”

He said the three parties released a joint statement on Sunday night after reviewing clashes between Golkar and the PPP in several parts of Jakarta over the weekend.

Mr Amal said the party chiefs had on Sunday also discussed the involvement of “external elements” trying to infiltrate party rallies in Jakarta to disrupt the polls and discredit the government. He declined to identify the “external elements” but said they were being supported by non-governmental organisations.

The statement on Sunday warned of “certain groups planning to disrupt or even sabotage the election”. It also advised party cadres to be vigilant against “groups who wanted to exploit the campaign to disrupt peace and order”.

Violence hit five areas in Jakarta on Sunday, with chaos subsiding only in the evening after hundreds of riot police and troops secured the trouble spots, many firing tear gas and warning shots.

Observers welcomed the move to put a hold on big rallies in the city.

Commented political observer Salim Said, who is also chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council: “It is better than giving people the chance to kill each other on the streets.”

Others, though, questioned whether the parties, in particular PPP, would actually heed the agreement.

The PDI was the first to be affected as it was scheduled to campaign in Jakarta yesterday. No clashes were reported, with party cadres saying it was abiding by the new rules.

Golkar cadres said the ruling party would adhere to the pact and had distributed the statement to all party offices to ensure compliance. “There are some things beyond our control,” said one Golkar cadre, adding: “But this might put a stop to some of the problems.”

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