Wiranto emerges as 2004 contender
By Amy Chew for CNN
Wiranto is emerging as a top Golkar candidate for 2004.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Follow the news that matters to you. Create your own
alert to be notified on topics you're interested in.
Or, visit Popular Alerts
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesia's former armed forces chief, General Wiranto, has emerged as one of the leading candidates for the country's first direct presidential elections in 2004.
Campaigning for a presidential ticket from Golkar, the country's second largest party, Wiranto has won one of five places in the national party convention due to be held early next year.
If he emerges as Golkar's top candidate, Wiranto will compete in a July 5 runoff that pits incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri against a potential host of other contenders.
They could include Vice President Hamzah Haz, House speaker Akbar Tanjung, business tycoon Aburizal Bakrie and People's Consultative Assembly speaker Amien Rais, who heads the National Mandate Party and is a former head of the country's second largest Islamic social organization, Muhammadiyah.
Twenty-four parties are competing in general elections in April ahead of the first stage of the presidential poll in July. It will be followed by a run-off between the top two candidates in September.
2003: 3.7% (f)
2004: 3.9% (f)
Source: HSBC. (f)=forecast
While Megawati has the advantage of incumbency, the issue of her presidential opponents will become clearer after the April parliamentary elections.
One political commentator, Ryaas Rasyid, has no doubts about Wiranto's pulling power.
"Wiranto is the top candidate in Golkar's convention. If he secures the presidential nomination, believe me, he will be the next president of Indonesia," Ryaas -- now chairman of the United Democratic Nationhood Party and a former regional autonomy minister during the 1999-2001 presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid -- told CNN.
"The people see him as someone who can restore order, give them jobs -- a representative of Suharto's era, a time when their lives were deemed much better than today," Ryaas said.
The charismatic Wiranto, 56, evokes strong emotions. Outside of Indonesia, he is reviled for his alleged role in the violence that wracked East Timor in 1999, when he was Indonesia's armed forces chief.
The United Nations estimated 1,000 people died in the mayhem and prosecutors in East Timor last year charged Wiranto with crimes against humanity.
1. Pioneer Party (Pelopor). Chairwoman: Rachmawati Sukarnoputri.
2. Freedom Party (PM). Chairman: Adi Sasono.
3. Socialist Democratic Labor Party (PBSD). Chairman: Muchtar Pakpahan
4. Indonesian Nahdlatul Community Party (PPNUI). Chairman: Syukron Makmun
5. Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (PPDI). Chairman: Dimmy Haryanto.
6. Regional United Party (PPD). Chairman: Usman Sapta.
7. Democratic Party (PD). Chairman: Budi Santoso.
8. Reform Star Party (PBR). Chairman: Zainuddin M.Z.
9. Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI). Chairman: Edi Sudrajat.
10. Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Chairman: Hidayat Nur Wahid.
11. Freedom Bull Nationalist Party (PNBK). Chairman: Eros Djarot.
12. Concern for the Nation Functional Party (PKPB). Chairman: Raden Hartono.
13. Golkar Party (Partai Golongan Karya). Chairman: Akbar Tanjung.
14. Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle(PDI-P). Chairwoman: Megawati Sukarnoputri.
15. National Mandate Party (PAN). Chairman: Amien Rais.
16. Crescent Star Party (PBB). Chairman: Yusril Izha Mahendra.
17. National Awakening Party (PKB). Chairman: Alwi Shihab.
18. United Development Party (PPP). Chairman: Hamzah Haz.
19. Marhaen Indonesia National Party (PNI). Chairwoman: Sukmawati Sukarnoputri.
20. United Democratic Nationhood Party (PPDK). Chairman: Ryaas Rasyid.
21. Indonesia Unity Party (PSI). Chairman: Rahardjo Tjakraningrat.
22. Prosperous Peace Party (PDS). Chairman: Ruyandi Mustika Hutasoit.
23. New Indonesia Alliance Party (PPIB). Chairman: Sjahrir.
24. Pancasila Pancasila Patriot Party (PPP). Chairman: Yapto Surjosumarno.
Source: General Elections Commission
Human rights activists have claimed he would be arrested if he stepped outside of Indonesia, a claim his aide has denied.
"Pak Wiranto has just been to Singapore (two weeks ago) where he was invited to be a speaker at the Lions Club. There was no problem," Wiranto's campaign manager Tito Sulistyo told CNN.
"In fact, he is considering visiting America to prove those claims are untrue," Sulistyo added.
While Interpol has issued a number of arrest warrants related to crimes in East Timor, Wiranto's name is not among them.
Five years ago, Wiranto could have seized power in Indonesia as the 32-year rule of Suharto crumbled.
In 1998, with thousands of students besieging the country's Parliament and calling for Suharto's ouster, the president issued Wiranto with a presidential instruction to "neutralize" the protesters.
Wiranto declined to act. He calculated a military coup would have cost the lives of at least 500 students and Indonesia would have become an international pariah, losing much-needed foreign aid.
"I had no wish to take power atop of death and the ruins of my nation," Wiranto told CNN.
Through the ballot box, Wiranto is now making a bid for the presidency he could have snatched in 1998 at the point of the gun.
The 2004 presidential election comes at a time of great economic and social difficulty for Indonesia.
Promises of reform made five years ago have largely gone unfulfilled, with millions thrown out of work in the economic downturn and a breakdown in law and order that has seen thousands of casualties in sectarian violence.
Terrorism, from the devastating Bali bombing in October 2002 to last August's blast at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, has brought new restrictions and hampered economic recovery.
"I feel I am called to take concrete steps to improve the fate of this country, as I myself had once secured and given assurances that reforms would proceed peacefully, orderly and constitutionally," said Wiranto.
When Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998, people expected a better life. But his successor Habibie was unable to deal with the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, as investors turned away from Indonesia. Habibie in turn was replaced as president by Abdurrahman Wahid.
Wiranto's star waned along with the change in leadership. In 2000, he retired from the military and was dismissed as the top security minister by Wahid.
His role in the Indonesian military's crackdown in East Timor and his handling of social unrest, including student protests, remains a sticking point with activists and human rights groups.
Syafik, a student activist who saw his friends shot to death during a huge protest in 1999, believes Wiranto owes an explanation for what really happened.
"If he comes out to tell the truth, I am prepared to accept that he was not in the wrong. If not, I hold him responsible for what happened," Syafik said.
Wiranto's failure to stem the violence is expected to haunt his bid for the presidency.
"Wiranto is sincere -- he doesn't like to see the country ruined by the lack of leadership," said Hasyim Wahid, the brother and one-time confidant of former President Wahid.
"However, he has this unfinished business -- the shooting of students, East Timor."
"He should finish this business (rights violations) by revealing whatever he knows. Maybe by doing this, he may put his life in danger but there is always a risk in life."