Political violence escalating: Indonesian Police chief

Political violence and intimidation have begun to escalate in the lead-up to the legislative election in April, National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said on Tuesday.

The police chief made the statement after confirming that recent shooting incidents in Aceh, in which one legislative candidate was killed, were politically motivated.

Faisal, a legislative candidate from the National Aceh Party (PNA), was shot dead by unidentified assailants as he was driving his car on Sunday. It was the second shooting incident in the province in the past three weeks after two masked men shot at a campaign post installed by Zubir HT, a Nasdem Party legislative candidate, in North Aceh regency and assaulted two of Zubir's supporters, on Feb. 16.

"Yes, the motives are political. Political violence and disturbances to public order have begun to escalate," Sutarman told reporters at the Presidential Office. He was summoned by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to a cabinet meeting that was also attended by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto and Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi.

"Intimidation, where people are forced to vote in favor of certain [candidates] or forced to not choose them, has already started, particularly in some areas along Java's southern coast and in Purworejo in Central Java."

He said the police had recorded at least five cases of political violence in the past few weeks, adding that Aceh, Papua and Poso in Central Sulawesi would be the areas most prone to violence during the elections.

The President has again instructed the police to safeguard the elections seriously.

"[The President] asked the police to be serious in securing the elections and to provide integrated measures, including during the campaign period next week, as well as during and after the voting day," said Djoko after the meeting. "The BIN [National Intelligence Agency] will, of course, support the efforts."

Djoko offered his assurance that the elections were on schedule and would not be affected by the recent incidents in Aceh. "If [political violence] happened all over Indonesia, then it could threaten the elections," he said, adding that the government has yet to impose special security measures for Aceh and Papua.

The PNA is one of the local parties in Aceh that is contesting the legislative election this year. The party was founded by former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf, who left the Aceh Party (PA) - another local party established by Free Aceh Movement (GAM) combatants following the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement, which ended their 30-year struggle for an independent state.

The PNA is considered to be the PA's strongest rival, as many of the PNA's party executives and members are also former GAM combatants who are no longer on the same political wavelength as their former comrades.

Faisal's murder brings the number of PNA members and legislative candidates killed ahead of the elections to three. Aside from Faisal, one party member was shot and killed early last year, while the other died after being brutally assaulted in February this year.

BIN head Lt. Gen. (ret.) Marciano Norman, who also attended the meeting, said the incidents were also the result of the distribution of illegal firearms in Aceh.

"[The police] must conduct regular sweeps in search of firearms in Aceh [to prevent such incidents], since such terror hampers our democracy," he said. "I urge everyone to avoid hampering this democratic event."