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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Campaign kicks off in Indonesian election

The red of Megawati's supporters dominated the day's rally

Campaigning for next month's Indonesian elections has officially begun with a colourful and largely peaceful rally in central Jakarta.

Indonesia
Thousands of supporters of the 48 parties taking part in the election attended the rally in the capital's Merdeka (Freedom) Square carrying flags and banners in their candidates' colours.

But it was red flags and the black bull symbol of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-Struggle), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, which dominated the day.

The government has vowed that the elections will be the freest in more than 40 years.


Simon Ingram in Jakarta: The army and police are on alert
Around 130 million people are eligible to vote in the first election since former President Suharto was forced to step down during widespread rioting last May.

Large numbers of soldiers and police were deployed on the streets of the capital and across the archipelago as Wednesday's rally and subsequent parade got under way.

Golkar attacked

But in spite of initial fears no serious trouble was reported.


[ image: Police stepped in to protect the Golkar trucks from angry crowds]
Police stepped in to protect the Golkar trucks from angry crowds
The only incidents to marr the parade came when vehicles belonging to the ruling Golkar party were set upon and their yellow flags and banners torn off.

Stones and plastic bottles were thrown at Golkar supporters.

The BBC South-East Asia Correspondent, Simon Ingram, says the anger directed at the Golkar presence was a sign of how little success it has had in shedding its association with the corruption of the former Suharto regime.

Thousands of foreigners and ethnic Chinese have already left the country fearing a repeat of last May's violence in which 1,200 are thought to have died.

Presidential plea


Simon Ingram: "Many unruly groups have become involved in this campaign"
In the run-up to campaigning senior officials have warned against deliberate attempts to incite unrest in the run-up to the vote on 7 June.

In a taped television speech, President BJ Habibie appealed for peace and tolerance of different political views.

"What we need most in this election campaign is a high level of tolerance," he said. "We must use the freedom that we have wisely."


[ image: Jakarta residents have been preparing for renewed unrest]
Jakarta residents have been preparing for renewed unrest
Recent opinion polls have pointed to a resounding defeat for Golkar which last week nominated Mr Habibie for re-election during the presidential vote scheduled for November.

Golkar, which in previous elections averaged around 70% of the vote, is now expected to gain little more than 20%.

Megawati's PDI-Struggle is expected to win the largest share of the vote.

Opposition alliance

Earlier this week Golkar deputy chairman, Marzuki Darusman, said he expected the party's performance in the forthcoming general election to be damaged by the recent formation of a new opposition coalition.


[ image: Supporters of all 48 parties paraded through Jakarta]
Supporters of all 48 parties paraded through Jakarta
He added that the nomination of Mr Habibie, who is widely seen as a product of the Suharto regime, would be "a liability" for the party's electoral chances.

The new opposition alliance brings Megawati's PDI-Struggle together with the two other main opposition parties, the National Mandate Party of Amien Rais and the National Awakening party.

They have vowed to fight attempts by the old political elite to block moves towards democratic reform.

The three parties say they will not choose a candidate for November's presidential vote until after the results of June's parliamentary elections are known.

But analysts say that Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's charismatic founding president who has a long association with opposition to the Suharto regime, is likely to be the main beneficiary of the deal.



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