Leading Suharto critic aims for power in Indonesia
June 6, 1999
From Correspondent Mike Chinoy
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (CNN) -- Amien Rais was one of the leading opponents of the regime of Indonesia's former leader, President Suharto. Now, the American-educated academic is hoping that Monday's election might put him at the helm of his country.
"This is a very crucial election, because lots of people want to see the next election as a watershed between the status quo and reform, between establishment and change, between corrupt government and clean government," Rais says.
With his history of anti-Suharto activism, Rais has tried to position himself as the country's foremost advocate of reform. As one supporter put it, when everyone else was scared of the authoritarian regime, he had the guts to criticize things publicly.
And in a campaign based more on personalities than policies, Rais stands out for taking some explicit, and sometimes controversial, positions. He's demanded a swift and thorough investigation of corruption allegations against Suharto and called for the armed forces to get out of politics.
But his background as the longtime leader of the Muhammadiyah Islamic group, the second-largest Muslim organization in the country, has raised concerns that he might fuel religious tensions.
Though Rais resigned his position with Muhammadiyah last fall, many of his campaign workers are Islamic activists.
"(He) has a problem, and the problem is, 'Who is the real Amien Rais?'" says Indonesia expert James van Zorge. "After the fall of Suharto, Amien Rais quit the Muhammadiyah and set up his own party, then suddenly Amien Rais is a nationalist secular politician -- or would like to pretend to be so."
But Rais insists he'll oppose any move toward religious polarization, stressing his willingness to ally with other reform-minded parties.
"My party is an open, an all-inclusive party," he said. "We are very concerned seeing any signs of polarization in our country."
If Rais' party wins enough seats in the new parliament elected Monday, he will become a major player in the political horse-trading leading up to selection of a president later this year.
Depending on how that coalition-building process plays out, Rais still has a chance to be the next president of Indonesia.
Police fire on protesters as Indonesia election nears
Asia Society - Indonesia's 1999 Elections - A Second Chance for Democracy
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