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Polls tension in Indonesia rising steadily

Straits Times - May 2, 1997

By Susan Sim, Jakarta – The Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) begins its second round of campaigning in Java today amid heightened tensions, a result of sporadic clashes between its supporters and those of the ruling Golkar party late on Wednesday which marred the fourth day of the hustings.

A top security official told The Straits Times yesterday tension was "rising step-by-step" as the authorities prepared for two big rallies by the PPP in Jakarta and Pekalongan today.

Pekalongan, scene of several riots and inter-party clashes since March, was again rocked by fresh violence on Wednesday as PPP supporters fought with Golkar rivals, leaving at least 18 people injured.

Reports said that the clash broke out after PPP supporters discovered Golkar supporters removing PPP flags on the side of a road. A government office and five other buildings were damaged in the ensuing melee. The city was yesterday described as tense with most shops closed as troops maintained vigil.

Meanwhile, the PPP chapter in Yogyakarta yesterday issued a statement announcing its decision to "stop completely all forms of campaign activities" in the special autonomous region after one of its offices was pelted with stones and attacked by Golkar supporters late on Wednesday.

It also decided to remove all the party's flags, posters and campaign material, leaving Yogyakarta city with "pockets of Golkar yellow only", an observer said.

Jakarta was yesterday also relatively quiet after two days of traffic jams caused by illegal parades staged by Golkar and PPP supporters. With street rallies banned to prevent clashes between rival supporters, a military spokesman on Wednesday appealed to party leaders to "persuade their supporters to stop travelling in convoys during this campaign". Golkar had earlier complained to the election supervision committee that the PPP had broken the rules by staging a huge street rally in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), whose turn it was to campaign in the capital and Java under strict campaign rules, was hardly visible yesterday.

The party had earlier decided to stop campaigning in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, after 5,000 supporters of ousted leader Megawati Soekarnoputri disrupted a rally there on Monday.

On Wednesday, five of its supporters in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, were injured after they were attacked by an unidentified group of men, reports said. Fearing violence, it also decided not to hold rallies in South Sulawesi.

Meanwhile, T-shirts bearing a picture of Ms Megawati with slogans in Indonesian and the local Javanese dialect calling on people to boycott the elections, were "selling like hot cakes" in the Central Java towns of Semarang and Salatiga, The Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

The former PDI leader, barred from contesting the polls, had asked her supporters to boycott the 27 days of campaigning but stopped short of telling them what to do with their ballot.