Subject: Kyodo Focus: Welfare, Not Human Rights, To Be Key To Indonesian Presidency

also Indonesia ‘War Crimes’ General Prabowo Subianto Seeks Election

Focus: Welfare, Not Human Rights, To Be Key To Indonesian Presidency

Christine T. Tjandraningsih

JAKARTA, June 13 (Kyodo News) -- Welfare and the economy, not corruption, human rights nor security, are the main criteria most of more than 176 million Indonesians are examining as they decide how to cast their ballots July 9 to elect their country's top leaders.

And they are also looking for proven leadership, not promises that can turn into lies.

Three pairs of presidential and vice presidential candidates are seeking the top two positions in the country, but already most polls and political analysts predict incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his running mate, economist and former central bank Governor Boediono, will likely grab a resounding victory.

Surveys by the generally most reliable of dozens of pollsters in the country give the retired army general about 60 percent of the support.

Yudhoyono's predecessor Megawati Sukarnoputri is polling slightly less than 20 percent and Yudhoyono's vice president turned rival Jusuf Kalla is managing just single-digit support.

Yudhoyono will win the presidency again if he manages more than 50 percent of the total votes cast and at least 20 percent of the vote in half of the country's 33 provinces.

If no one meets those criteria, the two top candidates will compete in a runoff slated for Sept. 8.

But why does Yudhoyono seem a shoe-in?

After three presidential elections during the 10 years of the ''reform era,'' political analysts say Indonesians now understand politicians can and do lie.

''They become very pessimistic towards promises from politicians and when you have campaigns, three different campaigns -- two about promises and one about proof -- and that is the primary reason why we see this huge gap in popularity,'' Sunny Tanuwidjaja, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Kyodo News.

''Indonesians vote based on individuals who, they think, can provide for their interests, for their needs,'' Tanuwidjaja said.

And Yudhoyono has already proved himself, particularly to the grassroots, during his five-year tenure that ends Oct. 20, the researcher said.

''Indonesia is a unique case, because the president's popularity has increased significantly because of crisis. Because the economy is in crisis, he released highly populist programs and his popularity went up significantly,'' Tanuwidjaja said, referring among others to the ''direct-cash'' assistance program.

Yudhoyono's government launched the program last year, distributing cash directly to the poor after fuel prices were raised due to the skyrocketing of world crude oil prices.

Around 19.1 million poor families received cash assistance of 100,000 rupiah ($9.83) each, plus cooking oil and sugar packages, each month in compensation for the increased price of goods following the government's decision to raise domestic fuel prices.

''I don't recall a time when there was a government program that directly affected the people and the people can directly see that,'' Tanuwidjaja said.

''Getting assistance from the government that directly affects you and you can directly see that it's from the government, is very, very important,'' he added, saying it is the biggest reason why Yudhoyono's popularity keeps rising.

Kuskrido Ambardi, research director at the Indonesian Research Institute, or LSI, shared a similar view, saying, ''Empathy, showing concerns about what the people are feeling and suffering'' is one of the main criteria a presidential candidate must have.

''For now, only the pair of Yudhoyono and Boediono is regarded as meeting the most criteria,'' Ambardi said.

Despite the fact the middle class knows Kalla plays a more important economic role than Yudhoyono, the grassroots do not see that -- a factor that makes Kalla less popular than his boss, Tanuwidjaja said.

''Indonesians, when they look at the government, the primary individual institution is the president. The failure of the government is the president's fault, the success of the government is because of the president,'' he said.

In terms of curbing corruption, despite international media reports that Yudhoyono's harsh, successful acts on corrupters have played a role in increasing his popularity, Tanuwidjaja said that for most Indonesians, corruption eradication is important but not the most decisive factor.

''Indonesians (think), 'We know all of you are corrupt, but as long as you serve us, as long as you keep serving the nation, you can keep to your corruption','' he said.

A recent LSI survey shows only 6.3 percent of the 2,999 respondents put corruption as the most urgent issue for the next government. On the other hand, 34.5 percent want efforts to improve economic conditions for the people and 10.2 percent want cheap basic commodity prices.

And human rights play little role in the decisions of the grassroots, Tanuwidjaja said when asked about the running mates of Megawati and Kalla -- both are retired generals with poor human rights records.

Megawati's running mate Prabowo Subianto is a former commander of the army's Strategic Reserves Command who was fired for alleged involvement in the kidnapping of several activists in 1998.

And Subianto was the son-in-law of Suharto before divorcing the former strongman's daughter last year.

After his dismissal as an army commander he became a businessman.

Kalla's running mate Wiranto was the country's military chief when riots in Jakarta in 1998 ended with hundreds of people dead and the fall of Suharto after 32 years of iron-fisted rule.

He is also regarded as the one responsible for the violence in East Timor in 1999 after its people voted for independence.

''Human rights are more a middle-class issue, the issue of some students, the issue of those who have been the victims of human rights violations,'' Tanuwidjaja said. ''The people (at the grassroots) are more concerned about welfare and even many individuals in Indonesia dream of the New Order (Suharto's regime) again. (For them), the New Order was a very, very good period with a lot of economic development.''

Judging from what the grassroots thinks about human rights, Tanuwidjaja believes it will never prevent Subianto from successfully reentering Indonesian politics.

''And the fact he can be a vice presidential candidate now shows that somebody like him, with so many problems, can be part of the Indonesian leadership...he puts himself on the (political) map again,'' he said. ''He still has so much money in his pocket and money is one of the primary factors to be able to be a strong political power in Indonesia.''

For those reasons, Tanuwidjaja called for keeping watch on Subianto, 57, whose Gerakan Indonesia Raya won 26 seats in the House of Representatives in April, an achievement seen as significant for a newcomer.

''His purpose is 2014,'' Tanuwidjaja said.

''In 2014, I'm almost certain that all the candidates are going to be new faces and Prabowo (Subianto), he is the only one who can claim he has experience,'' he added, saying the other current candidates will be too old, while Yudhoyono cannot seek a third term.

''I'm probably wrong, but that's the logical explanation on why he may be a strong competitor for everyone, and I think we should be concerned,'' he said.


The Sunday Times (UK)

June 14, 2009

Indonesia ‘War Crimes’ General Prabowo Subianto Seeks Election

Michael Sheridan and Dewi Loveard, Jakarta

One of the darkest characters from Indonesia’s bloody past has reinvented himself as a respectable candidate for vice-president and could emerge as the country’s most powerful politician after elections next month.

He is Prabowo Subianto, 58, a former special forces commander and army lieutenant-general, who married Titiek, the second daughter of the late dictator Suharto, and was associated with the violence and nepotism of his regime.

Human rights groups have condemned his record in East Timor and Jakarta, where men under his command shot demonstrators and kidnapped opponents. Last week activists called for voters to shun him.

Prabowo refused to talk about his past when questioned by The Sunday Times last week. Over the years he has repeatedly denied all the allegations. But they will not go away.

He served four tours of duty in East Timor, where Indonesian occupation forces were accused of war crimes including torture, rape and murder. In the last years of the Suharto regime, special units under his command were blamed for abductions and disappearances of pro-democracy activists.

The Indonesian media reported widespread rumours that he organised mobs to loot, burn, kill and rape throughout Jakarta’s Chinatown in 1998 in an attempt to sow chaos and pave the way for a coup.

After Suharto stepped down, Prabowo was accused of threatening the new president, B J Habibie, by deploying his commandos around the palace.

Prabowo went into exile but has made a comeback thanks to a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign funded by his brother, a tycoon. He is standing as running mate to Megawati Sukarnoputri, who served an undistinguished term as president from 2001 to 2004.

“I would like to see Indonesia as a more prosperous and self-reliant country and to be able to better manage its resources for the benefit of the people,” he said.

Political analysts see Megawati as weak and ineffective. They believe that if she won the presidency, Prabowo would become the stronger figure.

Megawati is the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, while Prabowo is casting himself in Sukarno’s role as a friend of the poor.

“I realised the only way to make a difference was through the political system,” he said.

The pair are challenging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is standing on a platform of competence and personal integrity.

President Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia ­ the most populous Muslim nation with 210m people ­ is planning a symbolic visit later this year to continue improving relations between America and Islam.

The prospect that he may be greeted by Prabowo is likely to dampen the enthusiasm of White House planners.

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