Change a common theme as hustings end

Change a common theme as hustings end

Over the past three weeks, they criss-crossed the country to rally their supporters, charm crowds and challenge their opponents.

As campaigning for the April 9 general election drew to a close yesterday, leaders of the 12 political parties contesting nationwide made their final pitches at rallies before a three-day campaign silence kicks in today.

Democratic Party's chairman, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, asked a packed stadium in Sidoarjo, East Java, to look back to where their country was 10 years ago, when he took charge, and consider the gains it has made today.

Though he cannot run again by law, the Democrats will carry on with unfinished work, he said.

Wednesday's vote will be the fourth nationwide one since the fall of strongman Suharto in 1998, and observers say many Indonesians want to see change, however, partly because they feel they have not enjoyed a fair share of the country's growth in recent years in spite of its democratisation.

What form this change should take, though, was a theme speakers touched on.

In nearby Surabaya, Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie appealed to popular nostalgia for the Suharto era, introducing two daughters of former president Suharto who said voters should elect his party if they wanted living conditions to be akin to those in the 1990s.

Also in Surabaya, Gerindra patron Prabowo Subianto said the democratic gains the country had made over the past 16 years were being hijacked by "thieves" who were responsible for keeping many poor.

As corruption remains a key concern for many voters, smaller parties stressed how they were untainted by graft cases.

At the Muslim-based United Development Party rally and carnival at Jakarta's proclamation monument, deputy chair Suharso Monoarfa said no party cadre had been charged with corruption, and pledged to stay clean. The Hanura Party also made a similar pledge.

Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairman of the Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P), which opinion polls have put as the clear front runner in the race, was in Klaten and Sukoharjo in Central Java, key strongholds for the party. She noted that people wanted a good leader and appealed to them to back the PDI-P and its presidential candidate, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo.

While many of his rivals and party chair Megawati Sukarnoputri made a final push for support in the Javanese heartland, Mr Joko travelled to Jayapura, the capital of easternmost Papua province, where separatist sentiment still simmers and where inequality and underdevelopment are major issues.

He promised to make Papua a priority, in a visit loaded with symbolism that came as Dr Yudhoyono reminded voters earlier in the week that his administration had brought the separatist conflict in Aceh to an end.

After visiting a traditional market under heavy police guard, Mr Joko pledged to deal with problems in Papua with "heart" and hard work, and to improve health and education there, saying the core of the problem was a lack of political will to help Papuans develop.

"I see very big potential here and most of the potential must be used for the welfare of the people of Papua," Antara News Agency reported him as saying.


This article was published on April 6 in The Straits Times.

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