Dirty tricks emerge in Jakarta presidential race

It bears the title Star Quest and the first eight minutes feature a segment from the Indonesian version of American Idol.

Then a blaring trumpet suddenly drowns out the singing, and up comes a yellow banner emblazoned with the message: ‘Prosecute General Wiranto.’

New footage appears and the message continues: ‘He is responsible for human rights violations… Do not vote for presidential candidates with military backgrounds.’

A snapshot of the retired general sits on the top left corner of the screen as scenes of soldiers shooting student protesters in May 1998 play for the next 40 minutes, reminding the viewer that Mr Wiranto was then military commander.

The Reject Wiranto VCD is the latest weapon in the ‘dirty tricks’ arsenal being used in the run-up to Indonesia’s first direct presidential election on July 5.

Copies of the VCD – encased in innocuous covers featuring talent show contestants – are offered freely at public places.

Members of the Wiranto team, though flustered, say it could backfire on his rivals.

One of his senior advisers, Golkar deputy chairman Marzuki Darusman, told The Straits Times: ‘This is clearly unfair play… But in the longer run, it works to their advantage because they are seen as victims and that could increase their popularity with voters.’

Likewise, he said, the accusations being directed at Mr Wiranto and rival presidential candidate Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for allegedly being behind an attack by army-led thugs on Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s opposition party headquarters in July 1996.

Mr Bambang was chief of staff of the Jakarta garrison when her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle headquarters was raided, and it was said to have had then president Suharto’s approval.

Mr Bambang has rejected the accusations.

Mr Marzuki said: ‘Bambang has come out scoring a lot of points from this because he is being victimised by the government.’

The perception of being a victim helped boost Mr Bambang’s ratings in opinion polls, after a fallout with the palace forced him to quit the Megawati administration.

As for Mr Wiranto, the VCD was not the only attack related to his military past.

Mr Kivlan Zein, who once served as his assistant in 1998, has accused him of leading a covert effort to recruit, arm and pay criminal gangs to break up student demonstrations at the time.

This week, he also alleged that Mr Wiranto’s campaign managers tried to bribe him to withdraw his claims.

Mr Wiranto’s spokesman has denied all the allegations.

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