Politicians fear violent season of campaigning
January 26, 1999

South China Morning Post

Jenny Grant

The Indonesian Government has set up a body to select political parties to compete in elections, while politicians warn primordial violence could threaten the polls.

Home Affairs Minister Syarwan Hamid said the new team would have to choose which of the 120 new parties would compete at the June polls.

Parties must have branches in nine of the country's 27 provinces and at least half of the districts in those areas.

Team member Andi Mallarangeng expected a dangerous campaign season, given that many new parties had been established along religious lines.

"With 20 to 30 parties involved, the campaign could turn into a national riot and that would probably affect whether we will have an election or not," Mr Mallarangeng said.

Thirty-three new Muslim-based parties have been established on platforms which range from moderate to fundamental. A Catholic party has also been established.

"With the mass psychology problem of violence we are seeing now, I'm really worried," Mr Mallarangeng said.

The Indonesian Chinese Reform Party is so far the only ethnic-based party to be established after ethnic Chinese were shut out of formal politics under ex- president Suharto's rule.

"The Chinese minority are afraid of the system of mass campaigning because we always become victims," party chairman Ponijan Liaw said.

He preferred a system of mass media dialogue on TV and advertising in newspapers rather than head-to-head campaigning on the streets.

Chairman of the Muslim Community Party, Dr Delia Nur, said the Chinese party might unintentionally fuel discord.

"We don't have a Javanese party or an Acehnese party," Dr Nur said.

"We do not need ethnic parties, but we do need nationalist parties. They can be socialist or religious in character."

He said Chinese would be safer joining an existing party.