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Challenge to Suharto's 30-year rule

South China Morning Post - March 4, 1997

Joe Leahy, Jakarta – Indonesia's President Suharto faces the first challenge to his 30-year rule after the country's Islamic-based party said yesterday it may nominate candidates to run for president and vice-president.

"We are not foreclosing the possibility that the candidates will come from within the party," said Tosari Wijaya, secretary-general of the United Development Party (UDP).

"We are instructing the branches to monitor the opinions of our grassroots supporters."

Indonesia's three official parties - the ruling Golkar Party, the minority UDP and Indonesian Democratic Party - will contest the country's sixth general election on May 29.

They will be competing for 425 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament, the People's Representative Council. The other 75 seats go to military appointees.

Members of the council will then join 500 presidential appointees next year for the meeting of the People's Consultative Assembly, the body responsible for electing the President.

Outspoken opposition politicians from the minority parties are traditionally weeded out ahead of the assembly meeting. This has enabled Mr Suharto, who is widely expected to run for a seventh five-year term next year, to be re-elected unopposed.

It is against this background - and a warning last week by the President that he will "gebug" (clobber) opponents - that the UDP must decide whether to run rival candidates.

"The leadership meeting has given its full trust to the executive board to choose the correct time and place to announce the United Development Party candidates for the presidency and the vice-presidency for the period 1998-2003," Mr Wijaya was quoted earlier in the Kompas daily as saying. However, he later left open the possibility of his party backing the status quo.

"The opinion of the grassroots is not final. If there is strong grassroots support for President Suharto, we will consider that option too."

Meanwhile, the banned People's Democratic Party issued a statement calling for a boycott of the election.

The group, which was smashed in a government crackdown in August, announced the launch of a "graffiti" campaign calling on people not to vote.