Jakarta – Thousands shouting "Long Live Mrs. President" turned out Sunday to hear opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri launch her campaign for Indonesia's first elections since the fall of Suharto.
In a fiery speech, Megawati, daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, warned that if the government rigged the June 7 polls it could trigger a repeat of the May violence that left more than 1,000 dead.
"If in the upcoming elections, the government does not act fairly – it is feared an even greater catastrophe (than May) will occur," Megawati said told the crowd. Should the poll be rigged, "it will be very difficult for any side to calm the people's anger, which could erupt in the most devastating form."
Some 3,000 people, dressed in the trademark red of the Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI), filled a field outside Megawati's home, and an estimated 7,000 more packed adjacent streets and alleys, an AFP reporter said.
Though billed as the 26th anniversary of the PDI, Megawati, in a 12-page address, made no bones she was delivering her first major campaign speech – railing against fallen president Suharto's ruling Golkar party, which is battling to hold power in the June 7 polls.
"With election time drawing near, we sense the existence of parties who want to create riots and disturbances ... with the aim of declaring a state of emergency and cancelling the elections to prolong the existing status quo," Megawati said.
"Let me tell you that we in the PDI-S (Struggle) have given you (the government and Golkar) an early warning.
"We have pointed out clearly who will be held most responsible should that disaster ever happen," said Megawati, 52, whose father was put under house arrest by Suharto in 1966.
She criticised Golkar for "defying reform and pro-democracy measures" by allegedly using its Suharto-era habit of mobilizing the civil service and the army to retain power.
When Megawati was ousted from the PDI leadership in a rigged party congress, massive riots broke out in Jakarta that left at least eight dead and scores missing and wounded. She later formed the breakaway PDI-Struggle.
The mass PDI-S meeting Sunday came a day after Golkar itself began priming itself for the June 7 polls by setting up a 480- strong campaign management and strategy team. The team, selected for their "loyalty and consistency", was installed by Golkar general chairman Akbar Tanjung at the party headquarters here Saturday in anticipation of a "strong challenge" in the polls, the state Antara News Agency said.
"God willing, Golkar will be able to win the hearts of the majority of the people and emerge victorious," Tanjung told the meeting of the central executive board.
After winning every election in Indonesia since 1971, with massive backing from the military and the civil service, the 36- million-member Golkar has been trying since Suharto's fall in May to fight defections and clean up its image. In its first post-Suharto congress in November, Golkar removed Suharto from its board of patrons and booted his children and closest conies out of top positions on its board of directors.
In June it will face a far more open, but divided, field, with some 15 out of the 120 parties that have mushroomed since Suharto's fall in May expected to qualify to stand candidates.
Megawati's PDI-S and the National Awakening Party (PAN), headed by Moslem intellectual Amien Rais, are among the strongest contenders, according to opinion polls.
The June elections will result in a new parliament, or lower house, and the formation of a new People's Consultative Assembly which would, under President B.J. Habibie's timetable, select a president before the end of 1999. Megawati, Rais and Suharto's hand-picked successor, Habibie, have all said they will run for the presidency.