Subject: FT Editorial: The Wrong Choice For Indonesia

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Financial Times [UK]

Monday, April 26 2004

Leader [editorial]

The wrong choice for Indonesia

It is tempting to shrug off the decision by Golkar, the Indonesian party that did best in this month's general election, to choose General Wiranto as its candidate for the presidential poll in July.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, certainly needs a strong hand at the tiller after drifting under Megawati Sukarnoputri, the current president. Gen Wiranto, a former defence minister and a moderate in both politics and religion, seems to fit the job description perfectly. He might even be good at fighting terrorism.

However, there are good reasons why Golkar should never have picked him and why Indonesian voters should not choose him now.

One can leave aside the argument that Gen Wiranto, like Golkar, represents a return to the past, although he was a pillar of the discredited Suharto regime in the 1990s. It is possible to forget his populist economic policies. One can even ignore his reluctance to step down on the orders of a democratically elected president in 2000.

Of far greater significance is that Gen Wiranto has been indicted by United Nations prosecutors in East Timor for crimes against humanity.

He is accused of "command responsibility" for killings by troops and pro-Jakarta militias in 1999, when inhabitants voted in a referendum for independence. About 1,400 people, including Sander Thoenes, a journalist for the Financial Times, were murdered.

The evidence cannot be lightly dismissed. Documents suggest that under Gen Wiranto the Indonesian military armed, trained and controlled the militiamen. Gen Wiranto denies wrongdoing, but he has a case to answer.

The fact that the Indonesian government finds it politically inexpedient to arrest him, or the others indicted, does not make him innocent. Nor does the fact that he did not personally take part in the killings. Like Abu Bakar Bashir, the cleric accused of overseeing recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Gen Wiranto's alleged crime is to have supervised the atrocities.

Foreign critics of Gen Wiranto face a dilemma. The US-led invasion of Iraq and President George W. Bush's unstinting support for Israel have made the US and the West unpopular among Muslims. The US has already put Gen Wiranto on its visa "watch list", but any overt criticism of him by Washington or Australia is likely to be counterproductive, and could persuade Indonesians to vote for him in droves.

Indonesian voters therefore bear a heavy responsibility. Neither the brutal Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, nor the spiteful and violent withdrawal 24 years later, were Indonesia's finest hour.

Indonesians may not care much whether their next president is free to travel abroad. But they should not underestimate the shame attached to choosing a leader who has yet to be cleared of crimes against humanity. By rejecting Gen Wiranto, they can start to make amends.

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