Thu, 31 Jul 2003

Parties accused of extortion in Medan

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

Chinese-Indonesian businesspeople in North Sumatra have alleged that political party activists are extorting money from them ahead of the 2004 elections.

The businesspeople said they were intimidated by the activists into giving them money.

Businessman Vincent Wijaya said some of the political activists in question freely admitted that they had asked him for donations to help finance campaigns ahead of next year's elections.

He said this had been taking place for months, adding that many other Chinese-Indonesians had similar grievances.

"Many businesspeople have been asked to donate up to tens of millions of rupiah. If they (extorters) are not given the amount they demand, they intimidate us," Vincent told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He declined to identify those involved, but said they included major political parties.

Vincent said most businesspeople in the North Sumatra capital Medan had been intimidated into giving donations to party activists.

"As businesspeople, we don't want to make enemies. That's our principle. But if asked whether we gave the money sincerely, we would say no," he said, adding that he received between four and five proposals for political donations each week.

Vincent demanded that the leaders of the parties in question put a stop to the practice of extortion.

However, several political leaders in North Sumatra denied ever ordering activists to seek donations from local businesspeople.

Serta Ginting, an official with the provincial branch of the Golkar Party, said his office had never recommended the collection of money from businesspeople in Medan.

He said it was regrettable if political parties were extorting businesspeople. "But if there are people voluntarily giving donations, we cannot refuse it."

Idham Hasibuan, the secretary of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction in the North Sumatra legislative council, also denied any organized extortion.

He said the provincial chapter of his party had never ordered members to raise funds for next year's election campaigns.

"As far as I know, PDI Perjuangan has never forced businesspeople into giving donations. However, the party has many supporters, many of whom are businesspeople, who often donate money for our party activities," Idham said.

Commenting on the extortion allegations, the chairman of the North Sumatra Elections Supervisory Committee, Choking Soesilo Sakeh, said his office had yet to receive any report on the matter.

"Any political party found to be collecting donations through force could be disqualified from the upcoming elections," he said.

Choking also said a number of parties had begun campaign activities ahead of schedule and that the committee would investigate where they were getting the money to finance these activities.