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World - Asia/Pacific

Leading Suharto critic aims for power in Indonesia

Rais: "My party is an open, an all-inclusive party"

Habibie hails Indonesian election as new era of democracy


June 6, 1999
Web posted at: 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT)

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
June 5, 1999
Violence reported on last day of Indonesian campaigning
June 4, 1999
Jakarta awash with red as Megawati's supporters campaign
June 3, 1999
Another big rally swamps Jakarta
June 2, 1999
Indonesia's Suharto plans to sue Time magazine
June 2, 1999
Top Indonesian opposition parties unite against Habibie
May 18, 1999
Habibie wins Indonesian presidential nomination
May 14, 1999

Asia Society - Indonesia's 1999 Elections - A Second Chance for Democracy
Indonesian Corruption Watch
Kompas - Nomor Urut Partai Politik Peserta Pemilu 1999 (in Indonesian)
Golongan Karya (Golkar) (in Indonesian)
Indonesian Organizations on the Web
The Ultimate Indonesian Homepage
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