More troops to stop clashes by rival groups

INDONESIAN ELECTION ’99

Groups backing the various presidential candidates could clash, so this is a pre-emptive move.

INDONESIA’s Armed Forces (Abri) chief General Wiranto yesterday warned that tensions could rise ahead of presidential polls in November as he announced plans to bolster troop presence to deal with potential unrest in Jakarta.

He told a parliamentary hearing that more than 21,000 police and military personnel would be deployed in the capital for the vote by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) in what Abri officers said was a “preemptive move to forestall clashes by rival groups championing different presidential candidates”.

Gen Wiranto made reference to this when he addressed legislators who wanted to know what steps the military would take to prevent a possible repeat of the May riots last year.

“What we need to be on the alert for is that in the run-up to the MPR session, the political heat will increase along with the possibility of the emergence of more than one candidate for the presidency,” he said. His aides reported increasing concern that “open confrontation” could break out, not just between nationalists and Muslims, but also between rival Islamic groups.

“It is ironical that after experiencing one of the most peaceful parliamentary elections in 30 years, things could, in the worst-case scenario, end up being more bloody if race, religion and ideology become focal points in the conflict,” said a two-star army general.

But other senior officers tried to downplay this outcome, saying that political soothsayers were predicting gloom and doom.

They said the main aim of Gen Wiranto’s message was to get rival parties to reach a consensus before voting in the country’s highest legislative body.

Noted an army general: “This is psychological warfare. He wants to scare the civilian politicians into burying their differences now before their fanatical supporters take over.

“And it is a return to the old paradigm where one candidate is perceived to be a safer option than having two or more. It is better to agree or disagree on just one candidate in the MPR.”

The MPR has never before had a choice of candidates in a presidential election. This time, there are several potential choices.

The leading figures for the post are President B.J. Habibie and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (Struggle) or PDI-P.

Horse-trading between front-runner parties is fraught with difficulty, given differences of opinion over who should be President.

Gen Wiranto said the military would encourage dialogue between the parties. “Our task is to encourage groups with differing views to speak with one another in a family atmosphere,” he said.

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