Subject: RI election focus may fall on ex-generals

also Rights Groups Say Elections Tarnished

The Jakarta Post

May 18, 2009

RI election focus may fall on ex-generals

by Lilian Budianto

Indonesia may come under international scrutiny as two former generals alleged to be implicated in past human rights infringements are nominated to contest presidential elections.

A possible setback to democracy is looming as Wiranto, a former general under Soeharto’s dictatorship, has been announced as Jusuf Kalla’s - the Golkar Party’s presidential candidate and incumbent vice president ­ running mate. The Golkar Party obtained the second largest number of votes in the April’s legislative elections, controlling 108 seats in the parliament.

Meanwhile, Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairwoman of the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), has picked another notorious retired general, Prabowo Subianto, as her running mate for the July 8 presidential elections. The PDI-P obtained the third largest number of votes and will control around one sixth of the 560 parliamentary seats.

The July elections will pit popular candidate from the Democratic Party and incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has picked noted economist and Bank Indonesia Governor Boediono as his running mate, against the other two pairs.

Bantarto Bandoro, the chairman of the Indonesian Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said Indonesia had won international praise by improving its rights records, after a period of battered credentials caused by a string of rights incidents in the volatile provinces of Aceh Nanggroe Darussalam, Papua and the former province of Timor Leste.

Western countries have recognized our ability to install democracy, improve rights enforcement, fight extremism... and successfully hold elections in a country of more than 200 million people,” Bantarto said.

However, the fact that military personnel still have a strong hold on politics and immunity from the atrocities they committed in the past send signals that we are still suffering from being a fledging democracy. Democracy should imply the principle of enforcement of justice,” he added.

Wiranto and Prabowo managed to build their political comebacks after creating their own political parties. Wiranto founded the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), which obtained 3.8 percent of votes in the last legislative elections. Prabowo, meanwhile, established the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), which gained 4.5 percent of votes.

Wiranto, as the supreme military commander from 1998 to 1999, was accused of crimes against humanity in Timor Leste, which claimed the lives of thousands leading up to and subsequent to the 1999 referendum that saw locals opting for independence.

Although the atrocities have been considered as dealt with through discussions involving both governments through the Commission of Truth and Friendship, the UN has still sought to prosecute offenders.

Wiranto was also in command during the 1998 May riots, in which thousands of men and women died on the streets of Jakarta.

Prabowo, former Army Special Force (Kopassus) commander, was accused of the kidnapping and murder of anti-Soeharto activists during the 1998 turmoil.

Prabowo’s Gerindra deputy, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, former deputy chairman of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), was put on trial for the murder of human rights campaigner Munir, but was declared innocent last January.

Neither Wiranto nor Prabowo have ever faced trial.

Their tickets to run for vice presidents are a claim to victory over the struggle of rights activists and families of the victims... and a major blow to the enforcement of human rights,” said Baskara Wardaya, a history professor at University of Sanata Dharma in Yogyakarta.

Indonesia’s political clout in the international arena rose after Soeharto’s 32-year dictatorship was toppled in a wave of demonstrations held by university students in 1998.

Indonesia has been dubbed as the world’s third largest democracy after the United States and India, having successfully held the first direct presidential election in 2004. As a symbol of recognition, the United States waived a military embargo in 2005, which had been in place since 1991 over rights abuses in Timor Leste and Papua.

Indonesia, the biggest democracy in Southeast Asia, is expected to spearhead a reform in human rights enforcement given its relatively leading position in the regional ASEAN grouping in terms of democracy and human rights, whilst other members of the ASEAN group have been trailing behind in terms of lack of political will to pursue these objectives.

Although Yudhoyono’s popularity is soaring high above the other two candidates’, the July presidential elections are still alarming reformists, who see reform as crucial to drive investment and economic growth amid the current global crisis.

Western countries will keep an eye on our elections to see how far we can carry on with our reformist agenda.” said Hashim Djalal, a senior diplomat.

Indonesia boasted about its successful democracy during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February visit to Indonesia, saying Jakarta was “an example of a Muslim country where democracy prevailed”.

Analysts say Indonesia-US relations under Democrat President Barack Obama will be largely shaped by democracy and human rights concerns given the Democrats’ history of foreign intervention to enforce liberal values.

Our diplomatic relations with foreign countries have been strengthened because we managed to build our democracy and enforce human rights...and such issues will continue to be a major concern for large countries like the United States,” Hashim said.

However, Hashim added the need to reform was not dictated by international interests, but was a mandate from the Indonesian people to their next government.


The Jakarta Globe

May 20, 2009

Rights Groups Say Elections Tarnished

by Sunanda Creagh

Almost 40 human rights groups combined on Tuesday to claim Indonesia’s reputation was being tarnished by the inclusion as vice presidential candidates of two former generals accused of rights abuses during the era of former strongman President Suharto.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is favored to win a second term in the July 8 vote, but faces a challenge from Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Kalla is running with Wiranto, a retired general who has faced allegations over abuses in East Timor when he was army chief.

Megawati is standing with Prabowo Subianto, another former general, who was fired in 1998 after troops under his command abducted and tortured pro-democracy activists.

The emergence of Prabowo and Wiranto as contestants in the 2009 presidential election highlights a weak commitment by our political actors to uphold human rights,” said a statement from the group of rights organizations.

The public must realize that to forget the crimes of the past will allow the same crimes to be repeated in future.” Both men have denied wrongdoing and said they were simply doing their duty as soldiers.

Wiranto was indicted by a UN panel over the bloodshed during Dili’s 1999 independence vote but never stood trial. He said last year the episode had been resolved.

Prabowo, who is from a wealthy family and was once married to Suharto’s daughter, told reporters in February his “conscience was clear” and noted some of the tortured activists had even joined his Gerindra Party.

Arief Priyadi, whose son was killed in 1998 when the military under Wiranto’s command at the time ­ opened fire on students protesting against Suharto in Jakarta, said people should be careful with their votes.

We, as a society, should be rejecting human rights abusers as presidential or vice presidential candidates,” he said. “To accept this is a step back for reform.”

The rights record of Yudhoyono, who was also a general during Suharto’s New Order era, was also brought into question at a meeting organized by the Coalition of Indonesian Human Rights Activists.

He was accused by some activists of neglecting human rights issues because of his government’s handling of the mud volcano disaster that displaced tens of thousands of people in Sidoarjo, East Java. The scandal over the subsequent compensation payments has hurt the government’s reputation.

Yudhoyono’s approval rating in a recent poll of 67 percent, compared to 12 percent for Megawati and 2 percent for Kalla, makes it look almost certain he will win a second term in office, bar some unexpected blow.

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