Subject: AFR/ST: Wiranto Poses Real Challenge to Megawati

also: ST: Presidential Hopeful Wiranto Fires First Salvo;

Australian Financial Review Saturday, January 17, 2004

Wiranto Poses Real Challenge to Megawati

By Andrew Burrell

Jakarta - Sharing lunch with an indicted war criminal accused of overseeing the slaughter of 1500 people is hardly an everyday experience. Neither is it as difficult as it might seem.

Indonesia's smiling former armed forces chief Wiranto chomped on roasted chicken and sipped iced water, while chatting pleasantly, even humbly, with a group of Jakarta's foreign journalists on Thursday.

The charismatic 56-year-old, more famous in Indonesia for singing soppy love songs than for his alleged human rights violations in East Timor, is a man on the hustings. The lunch date was part of an attempted image makeover that may help deliver him the presidency at elections this year, when 145million Indonesians will vote directly for their head of state for the first time.

Such a mission by a man so closely associated with the authoritarian Soeharto regime would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But in 2004, with the spirit of reformasi waning and nostalgia for Soeharto surging, a Wiranto presidency has become realistic.

After four years in the political wilderness, Wiranto is back on the front pages of Indonesia's vibrant press, running an energetic campaign that involves criss-crossing the massive archipelago in a chartered plane.

The retired four-star general is, after all, a good story. Unlike some others, he doesn't shy away from answering claims about the excesses committed during his period in power. A new self-penned book, Witness in the Storm: Truth Revealed by Wiranto, addresses many of the allegations head-on (albeit with stony denials of responsibility) and has been translated into English.

Rumours abound of how his campaign is funded by Soeharto family money or the military, or that Wiranto has formed alliances with potential running mates.

His popularity is aided by him singing on the campaign trail, often songs from an album of ballads he released a couple of years ago.

Indonesian politics is volatile and unpredictable, but opinion polls give Wiranto a real chance of toppling the frontrunner, President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

His revival has also coincided with a change in fortunes for Indonesia's military, which was sidelined in disgrace after the events of 1998 but which has been able to regain much of its influence under Megawati, despite losing its right to seats in parliament.

Polls indicate that another retired general, chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is another main contender for the top job - if he decides to run.

"The president of Indonesia should definitely come from the military," says Cik Bujang, a businessman in central Jakarta. "And I think Wiranto is the best candidate to be president because his track record in the military is good and clean."

The elections will likely be held in two stages: a first round on July5 and, assuming no single candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, a final run-off between the top two names on September 20.

If Wiranto does become president, he will face some immediate hurdles. Chief among them is a distinct lack of support, even a sense of revulsion, among many Western countries, including Australia and the United States, for his candidacy. Last year, United Nations-funded prosecutors in East Timor indicted Wiranto on charges of crimes against humanity, claiming he bore ultimate command responsibility for the military-backed slaughter and destruction during Indonesia's bloody withdrawal from its breakaway province in 1999.

Indonesia has refused to extradite any military leaders over the carnage, but East Timor's chief prosecutor insists he is close to obtaining an Interpol warrant for Wiranto, which could lead to his arrest if he travels abroad. Wiranto denies such a warrant would affect his ability to be president, or to interact with other countries.

The human rights claims are unlikely to become a domestic issue in the campaign, according to a think tank, the International Crisis Group. For most Indonesians, the East Timor bloodshed is an issue best forgotten. "Indeed, Wiranto would probably be more vulnerable electorally to charges of having failed to prevent the loss of East Timor," the ICG says. A former trusted aide of Wiranto, former general Kiki Syahnakie, says his old colleague is popular because he has the proven ability to manage a crisis. He, too, is sure that most voters will ignore the human rights claims.

"You have to understand this is the way of thinking among the middle and lower classes," says Syahnakie, who was indicted for crimes against humanity by East Timor's prosecutors. "Those kinds of sensitivities about the human rights abuses only develop among the upper, educated class."

Nor is there much risk that most voters would worry about a return, after only six years, to authoritarianism or militarism under a Wiranto presidency, analysts say. According to military strategist Agus Wijoyo, Wiranto has been able to successfully sell himself as a proponent of democracy because he supported the transition from Soeharto to his successor, BJ Habibie, in 1998 when he had the clear opportunity to seize power himself.

Unsurprisingly, Wiranto is campaigning in the provinces on a law-and-order platform in an attempt to capitalise on the rising nostalgia, especially at village level, for the sense of security and stability during Soeharto's rule.

He is also running hard on economic recovery, telling the packed lunchtime audience that included foreign diplomats and businesspeople this week that he would address Indonesia's weak legal system and burgeoning corruption - although he failed to provide any details of practical measures.

He also talks about the struggle of the Indonesian people since the economic crisis hit in 1997. As about half of Indonesia's population lives on less than $US2 ($2.60) a day, any promise to again provide the cheap rice that was common in the Soeharto era is bound to be a vote-winner.

Wiranto depicts himself as a man of peace, taking credit for stopping the bloodshed in Aceh in the late 1990s and promising to end the present offensive in the troubled province if he were elected president, a plan that will hardly make him popular with Indonesia's crop of military leaders.

He says the allegations of human rights abuses in East Timor were exaggerated and never proved by a court. He insists he ensured the lead-up to the independence ballot in 1999 was peaceful and the violence that erupted later was beyond his control.

He also paints himself as a patriotic man who has been called back to duty by his nation, compelled to return to the political sphere after once mulling a post-military career as a corn farmer.

Born in Yogyakarta on April 4, 1947, Wiranto began his military career soon after graduating from the National Military Academy in 1968. According to Kevin O'Rourke's book, Reformasi, Wiranto whiled away the first half of his career in mundane army jobs, including a 12-year stint in a sleepy outpost in North Sulawesi.

By 1980, after contemplating early retirement to become a county magistrate, he had managed to secure a position in the army's strategic reserve, after which he was transferred to Jakarta.

Then followed a meteoric rise through the ranks, under Soeharto's close supervision. By 1989, Wiranto had been made personal adjutant to the president, one of the military's most coveted jobs. In 1995, he was made commander of the Jakarta garrison, and in the following year elevated to commander of Kostrad, the army's main combat force. In June 1997, he was made a four-star general and sworn in as army chief-of-staff, and the word in military circles was that Soeharto was grooming his protege to be his eventual successor.

The following year, with unrest mounting against the regime, Soeharto elevated Wiranto to minister of defence and armed forces chief - the first time since the 1970s that one man had held the two jobs at the same time.

But Wiranto's period in these roles coincided with some of Indonesia's most publicised recent abuses, such as the Trisakti and Semanggi shootings in Jakarta, clashes with police in Maluku and, most notoriously, the East Timor scorched-earth campaign.

Wiranto was sacked in January 2000 by president Abdurrahman Wahid.

Before a rejuvenated Wiranto can take on Megawati this year, he must first claim the prized nomination of the Golkar party, the election vehicle that kept Soeharto in power for 32 years.

This will be no simple task. Wiranto faces his toughest opposition from Golkar's powerful chairman Akbar Tandjung, a wily politician who has been convicted of corruption but is awaiting an appeal verdict, rumoured to be handed down soon.

A successful appeal would set up an intriguing clash with Wiranto, but a loss would end Tandjung's political career and pave the way for Wiranto.

Behind these frontrunners are two wealthy businessmen: media magnate Surya Paloh, who owns the Metro TV station and the Media Indonesia newspaper, and the chairman of the chamber of commerce, Aburizal Bakrie.

Rounding out the Golkar field are three nominees with little chance: cabinet minister Jusuf Kalla, Soeharto's former son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, and the Sultan of Yogyakarta, who is popular in Central Java but will struggle elsewhere.

Wiranto has so far garnered most of his support from Golkar's local branches. As part of a party convention last year to choose its candidates, Wiranto won 124 districts, followed by Tandjung with 91 and Paloh with 64.

The make-up of the presidential race will hinge on the results of the April 5 legislative elections. If Golkar outpolls Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), as most analysts expect, the two big parties will likely field separate candidates. Megawati is already confirmed as her party's nominee.

If the PDIP finishes first, Golkar's party bosses may decide to settle for the vice-presidency on a potentially unbeatable joint ticket with PDIP, the only other major secular-nationalist party.

Whatever the outcome, such decisions will have to be finalised by late April or early May.

A typically uncompromising Wiranto says he would never accept the vice-presidency.

"An old soldier never dies," he smiles, before spouting another favourite motto that seems to suit Indonesia's evolving democracy in 2004. "Just let the people vote."


The Straits Times Saturday, January 17, 2004

Presidential Hopeful Wiranto Fires First Salvo

By Robert Go

JAKARTA - Indonesia's reform initiatives have failed and the country needs a strong leader 'who can do better', said retired General Wiranto.

The Suharto-era armed forces commander has become a serious contender for presidential elections later this year.

During an unprecedented two-hour luncheon talk attended by foreign journalists and diplomats on Thursday, he said he was a champion of democracy who has heard a 'call of duty' to go for the top job, as there is 'a lack of leadership in the country'.

These remarks represented Gen Wiranto's first public salvoes against President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the reform-era government.

Said the one-time aide-de-camp to former strongman Suharto: 'If we want to be honest, the process of reform, which has been in place for the past five years, has not actually brought about significant change.'

He also blamed the slowness of Indonesia's economic recovery on the government in power, saying: 'A weak and visionless leader will never be able to accelerate the process of restoring stability and national economy.'

On Indonesia's serious problems - poverty, rising unemployment, separatism, sectarian conflicts and terrorism - he argued that the people 'deserve a government that is much better than what is in place'.

Although he is 'optimistic' about his chances, he faces a first challenge from rivals within the political party of his choice, Suharto's Golkar party.

Golkar was discredited after Suharto's downfall in 1998, but its strong regional network has facilitated a rejuvenation during the last five years.

It has floated at least seven potential presidential candidates, including party leader and Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung, who maintains a strong support network despite a graft conviction.

Analysts said Golkar could increase its share of parliamentary seats in April's legislative elections, perhaps at the expense of Ms Megawati's PDI-P party.

Gen Wiranto is also dodging allegations of human rights abuses related to massacres that took place around East Timor's separation from Indonesia in 1999. United Nations prosecutors have issued an indictment for him.

He attempted to address his track record, saying: 'A commander in chief should not always be held accountable for what military personnel have done.'

He drew a comparison to massacres by American forces during the Vietnam War, and pointed out that the US commander was not accused of human rights violations.

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