Mon, 08 Mar 1999

Thousands flock to Golkar Party meeting

JAKARTA (JP): The ruling political grouping Golkar officially declared itself a political party on Sunday, with a massive turn out at the Senayan Sport Stadium, despite criticisms targeted at the institution since its main patron, Soeharto, stepped down last May.

The estimated 200,000 people -- mainly from Jakarta, West and Central Java -- packed the stadium from early in the morning.

The stadium was a sea of yellow, Golkar's trademark color.

Dances, traditional and modern music performances and air jumps by Golkar cadres entertained the audience.

Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung read out the party declaration and said it was dedicated to developing a people-oriented economy and upholding democracy.

"Golkar will no longer be a tool for the political elite to fight for their political interests and maintain the status quo. It will be there to join forces with the people to develop the national economy and to conduct gradual reform in all fields."

The next general election, therefore, would be a good occasion for Golkar to win support for its political and economic programs, he said.

Golkar was committed to free and fair elections, Akbar added.

Tens of thousands of attendees dispersed when an hour-long downpour struck the Senayan complex.

Attending were House Speaker Harmoko, House Deputy Speaker Abdul Gafur, Agung Laksono, Fahmi Idris, Fadel Muhammad, Slamet Effendy Yusuf and Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the Golkar faction at the People's Consultative Assembly.

Several people admitted receiving payment of between Rp 10,000 and Rp 50,000 to attend the gathering.

Soeparno and his 17 friends, all high school students from Central Java, said they were paid Rp 50,000.

"It's okay during the crisis," he said, adding that they were all supporters of the United Development Party (PPP) in their home town of Semarang.

A group of women from the Palmeriam area in East Jakarta said they were paid between Rp 10,000 and Rp 20,000.

"But we are loyal Golkar supporters and we have voted for it in the past," said a woman who asked for anonymity. She said the trip to the gathering was organized by subdistrict officials.

Executives vehemently denied reports that thousands of civil servants were forced to join the gathering.

Akbar denied forcing 6,000 employees of state-owned PT Pelabuhan Indonesia II (Pelindo II) to attend the gathering, saying that no instruction had been issued to the effect.

"All people attending the meeting are Golkar cadres and supporters and they came voluntarily."

Sources at Pelindo II revealed on Saturday that their management instructed 6,000 employees to attend a "field recreational orientation", which sources said was a code for the Golkar gathering. It was alleged the attendees would receive Rp 100,000 each plus meals. The sources added the instruction came from State Minister for Empowerment of State Enterprises Tanri Abeng.

Slamet Effendy Yusuf, Golkar deputy chairman said the party did not use force to organize the gathering.

"Any use of force will no longer be effective in the reform era," he said. (rms)