|Indonesia: Ethnic Chinese Make 1998 Riots in Jakarta an Election Issue|
|Written by The South China Morning Post|
|Thursday, 18 February 2010 16:30|
Denpasar [Indonesia] – Indonesian ethnic-Chinese groups are trying to make an election issue out of the 1998 riots that saw their community targeted in Jakarta and elsewhere in the archipelago as the Suharto regime crumbled.
Rudy Chua, spokesmanforthe Indonesian Chinese Social Association, urged former generals and vice-presidential candidates Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto to provide answers.
Wiranto was head of the military while Mr Prabowo was in charge of the army’s Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad).
In Indonesia it is largely believed the events were orchestrated by the military to deflect attention from the regime, a belief later backed by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.
“We want to know who is responsible for the tragedy. Who were the masterminds and who let it happen?” said Mr Chua, who is also a legislator in the Riau provincial assembly.
“Wiranto and Prabowo have denied any involvement, but their words are not enough,” he said. “The two were part of the military elite at that time, and they must know what happened. We are talking about mass rape, torture and targeted killings. Their pretence that this is forgotten history is unacceptable.”
Mr Chua said the Chinese community was suspicious of the two former generals and that unless they clarified what happened, this would probably shape the ethnic-Chinese choice in the vote on July 8.
“But this is not restricted to just Chinese-Indonesians. Many people are suspicious of them.”
Wahyu Effendi, an activist with the Indonesia Anti-Discrimination Movement, an ethnic Chinese NGO, said impunity for the riots set a dangerous precedent. “If there is no justice, it is possible that a similar tragedy may happen again, since some people may assume that there are no consequences.”
Mr Wahyu added that his group was planning to petition the parties that support the presidential tickets, including the two former generals.
Wiranto and Mr Prabowo are running in tickets headed by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
The Kalla-Wiranto ticket is supported by the Golkar party and Hanura, the latter established by Wiranto. The Megawati-Prabowo coupling is under the banner of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Mr Prabowo’s Gerindra party.
Surveys show both pairs are trailing far behind President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Dr Susilo, also a former general, was in 1998 chief of staff for social-political affairs and chairman of the military’s faction in parliament. He had participated in Suharto’s election for a seventh term as president only a short while before, but he has never been accused of having had a role in the riots.
During his three decades in office, Suharto manipulated the national understanding of Chinese-Indonesians’ role in the economic and political domain, portraying them as collectively controlling up to 70 per cent of the economy and using them as scapegoats when required.
This led to the 1998 riots, when public discontent fuelled by the effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis sent people to the streets.
An independent investigation later found that at least 1,118 people were killed, mostly ethnic Chinese.
Source : The South China Morning Post, June 1st, 2009