Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Black May 1998: 6th Commemoration (36 of 40)

Indonesian Pres Front-Runner Aims To End Discrimination

Jakarta, Sept. 7, 2004 (AP)--Indonesia's presidential front-runner said Tuesday he would end discrimination in the country, the world's most populous Muslim nation, including the ill-treatment of women, religious minorities and ethnic Chinese, if he wins a Sept. 20 runoff election.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is leading President Megawati Sukarnoputri in popularity polls, said he would ensure his policies were fair.

"I understand that within a democracy there should be no differences in treating its citizens," he said in a speech at a gathering of political and media analysts.

"The spirit of nondiscrimination, pluralism and respect for one another has to be upheld," Yudhoyono said. "We have to end discrimination against women and the Indonesian Chinese. Followers of all religions should be treated fairly with a spirit to ensuring the plurality of Indonesia."

More than 85% of the country's 215 million people are Muslim, while the remainder include Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.

Indonesian former dictator Suharto backed laws that kept ethnic Chinese out of politics and banned Chinese writing or other expressions of Chinese culture during his 32 years in power.

However, perceptions that he gave Chinese special privileges to run monopolies and accumulate large wealth fostered widespread resentment.

During 1998 riots that led to Suharto's ouster, thousands of Chinese-owned homes and shops were burned or looted. There were allegations of mass rapes of Chinese women and girls.

The government abolished the discriminatory laws two years after Suharto's downfall in 1998.

Indonesian women still have a low representation in business, government and politics.

Polls released last week showed that Yudhoyono is far in front of Megawati with a 58.2% support rating. Megawati trailed with 29.2%, while 12.5% said they were undecided.

Support for Yudhoyono has skyrocketed since he announced his candidacy in March. Voters view him as a clean, strong leader who could battle Indonesia's widespread corruption, settle its separatist conflicts and revive its moribund economy.

But in recent weeks, polls have shown Megawati closing the gap, partly over fears that Yudhoyono wouldn't do enough to protect the Chinese minority. His running mate, Jusuf Kalla, has also come under fire for suggesting he would favor Indonesian business executives at the expense of Chinese entrepreneurs.

Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is endorsed by the country's biggest Christian-based party.

Yudhoyono has been chastised by some Muslims for including Christians among his advisers while Christians have expressed concerns over his teaming up with the conservative Islamic Justice and Prosperity Party.

Yudhoyono came in first in the July 5 presidential election with 33.5% of the popular vote, while Megawati garnered 26.6%. Indonesian law requires a runoff vote if no candidate receives more than 50%.

Edited by Mary de Wet

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