Indonesia's army, police ordered to stay neutral

 Indonesia's army, police ordered to stay neutral
Mr Prabowo Subianto working the crowd at a rally in Ciparay near Bandung, West Java.



PRESIDENT Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has repeated a call for the military and police to remain neutral and act firmly on any violations ahead of the July 9 presidential election, amid fears that tensions could escalate given the tight race.

He told a press conference yesterday after a Cabinet meeting on security that he had heard worries from various quarters in Indonesia and abroad that trouble might arise if the losing camp did not want to accept defeat.

But Dr Yudhoyono vowed that the government would not be absent.

"God willing, the current situation is good, normal and under control, but if any sudden disturbance arises, then the state, police and military are ready to res- pond and handle the problem for the sake of national security," he said.

His comments come as local media reports highlight instances of local officials intimidating voters to get them to back a particular candidate and raise the possibility of unrest if the result is close.

Opinion polls in recent weeks show frontrunner Joko Widodo's lead over his rival, Mr Prabowo Subianto, narrowing to between 3 and 7 percentage points.

Observers say the election is too close to call amid a political climate that is also at its most heated in more than a decade.

The President especially reminded the police to act swiftly on election offences and be prepared for any contingency.

His remarks came as both candidates' teams have cried foul over smear campaigns allegedly conducted by the rival camp.

Yesterday, both candidates went around West Java in a late bid to secure votes in a battleground state.

Mr Joko lamented that police were not acting fast against those who clearly breached the law by publishing slanderous pieces to attack him.

He referred to a tabloid called Obor Rakyat, which has been distributed across Java and claims that Mr Joko is a Christian, the son of a Singaporean Chinese tycoon and a puppet.

The smears are believed to have caused a dip in his popularity in opinion polls.

"Uphold the law. Make them face the law. Don't be afraid of any political pressure," he told reporters. The authorities' lack of action only encouraged others to repeat the breach, he added.

Police have summoned the chief editor of the tabloid for questioning but the publication continues to circulate.

This week, the deputy chairman of Mr Prabowo's Gerindra party, Mr Fadli Zon, called Mr Joko's slogan of a "mental revolution" a communist idea in remarks broadcast repeatedly on a TV station backing Mr Prabowo. Early yesterday morning, supporters of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) attacked TVOne's offices in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, and spray-painted the Yogyakarta office with the words: "PDI-P not communist."

Mr Prabowo's team has denied attempting to intimidate voters, saying its man has been the victim of smears over alleged human rights abuses.

Yesterday, Mr Prabowo and key ally, Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie, campaigned in the agricultural district of Ciparay and mingled with residents in markets before a rally with farmers.

"His visit here is to seal support and guarantee a win; we are confident he can," said Mr Prabowo's economic adviser, Mr Sandiaga Uno.

This article was first published on July 4, 2014.
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