Tue, 09 Mar 1999

Party loyalties set the stage for clashes

JAKARTA (JP): Election-related violence loomed in parts of the country on Monday as political parties staged unofficial rallies ahead of the June 7 polls.

Tension boiled over into a clash when supporters of the United Development Party (PPP) fought with counterparts from the National Awakening Party (PKB) in the Central Java village of Menganti.

The brawl erupted from overnight tension in the neighboring town of Kudus, in which an unidentified group lowered 55 Golkar flags hoisted across the town. Disparaging acts against Golkar, which marked its inauguration as a party on Sunday, also occurred in other Central Java towns of Blora, Bojonegoro and Purwokerto.

Electioneering officially runs from May 15 through June 4. Violence frequently occurred in past elections under the strictly controlled New Order regime of Soeharto. In the most recent election in 1997, police estimate more than 200 people were killed in sporadic clashes and election-related traffic accidents nationwide.

There are fears of unrest at election rallies this year will be worse than ever due to the 48 parties contesting the polls. A total of 462 seats in the House of Representatives and scores of others in the provincial and regency legislatures are to be contested.

No deaths were reported in the Jepara clash on Monday, but local PKB chairman Ali Irfan said at least 10 people from both camps were injured, and six motorcycles belonging to PKB supporters and a car belonging to a PPP supporter were damaged.

He said the fight exploded when hundreds of supporters of the two parties -- both with claims to having Muslim strongholds -- met on their way back from respective party functions.

An exchange of taunts descended into a battle of stones, according to Irfan.

He said the party regretted the incident. "We should have kept democracy in our minds and recognized difference of opinions. It's OK to disagree, but don't resort to fighting and physical violence."

In Kudus, secretary of the local Golkar chapter, Suyatno, lamented the insult to his party's attributes, believing it discouraged efforts to establish democracy in the country.

"We hope for a democratic society, don't we? If so, we should be able to differ in views and choice of political aspirations," he said angrily.

Calling itself a functional grouping, Golkar fended off cheating and vote-rigging allegations to win each of the last six elections run under the New Order.

In Bandung, PDI Perjuangan chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri warned party followers against violence.

"Never think of vengeance of oppression we suffered in the past. Many times we were put in troubles, but we overcame them with patience," Megawati told thousands packing the Gasibu field.

Despite the fact that the final rules of campaign have yet to be issued by the National General Election Committee (KPU), the government, the dominant element in KPU, and some favorite parties have said they would agree to indoor campaigning.

In Jakarta, Minister of Information Muhammad Yunus said on Monday campaigning through the mass media should be an effective alternative for the many political parties.

"But, the mass media must give a fair coverage over the political parties' campaigning," Yunus told journalists after attending a hearing session with the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I for political and information affairs.

At the national meeting of Golkar Party executives late Monday, regional representatives were set to name five presidential candidates in their preferred order, with incumbent President B.J. Habibie expected to top the list.

Habibie was the preferred nominee of delegates from North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Irian Jaya and Maluku, sources said during a presentation of views and candidates held behind closed doors.

Other candidates are Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, party executive Ginandjar Kartasasmita, chairman of the Golkar faction at the Peoples Consultative Assembly Marzuki Darusman, Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto and Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengku Buwono X.

Arnold Baramuli, Golkar executive and chairman of the Supreme Advisory Board and Fahmi Idris, a deputy chairman and Minister of Manpower, confirmed the substantial support for Habibie. "It's not directed from the top. It's purely an aspiration from the grassroots."

The meeting is expected to determine a date at which Golkar will nominate its presidential candidate.

But Golkar executive Syamsul Mu'arif said that announcing the final candidate before the June elections could be a gamble.

"If the candidate lives up to the people's expectations, the early announcement will lead us to another win. It will deliver a big blow if our candidate lacks popular support," Syamsul said.

He indicated that Golkar would delay the announcement of its presidential candidate until after the elections. (har/43/45/aan/rms)