Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Terrorism not a big campaign topic in Indonesian election


A series of bombings have killed hundreds in Indonesia. Some of the perpetrators have been caught, but other Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda remain on the run. Washington and other foreign governments are worried.

But as landmark parliamentary and presidential elections loom, the question of how to fight terror isn't being debated by candidates. And, voters in the world's most populous Muslim nation don't seem interested either.

A recent survey by the International Republican Institute in Washington ranked terrorism last among issues worrying Indonesians. Less than 1 percent of 2,540 people polled considered it relevant. Fixing the long-running economic crisis and combatting rampant corruption topped the poll instead.

Analysts and some Indonesian politicians aren't surprised and predict terrorism will remain low on the campaign agenda.

No party wants to risk upsetting Islamic sensitivities. In Indonesia, religion and patronage -- not policies -- usually prove crucial to forming a governing coalition.

"It's in the ``too hard' basket," said Damien Kinsgbury of Australia's Deakin University. "No one wants to alienate the Islamic vote. And, going hard on terrorism would certainly do that."

Twenty-four secular and Islamic parties began campaigning last week for an April 5 election to determine the shape of a new parliament.

On July 5, Indonesia will hold presidential elections -- the first in which millions of voters, not a few hundred lawmakers, will choose a head of state.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who seems on course for a narrow win, has pledged support for the US-led war on terror. However, her government's record on finding and jailing terror suspects seems patchy.

Since she came to power three years ago, Muslim militants have inflicted a string of attacks targeting Christians and foreigners in a campaign aimed at destabilizing her secular government and replacing it with an Islamic state.

In late 2002, suspected mem-bers of Jemaah Islamiyah, South-east Asia's al-Qaeda affiliate, blew up two nightclubs on Bali, killing 202 people, mostly Western tourists. The same group was blamed for a car blast last year at Jakarta's J.W. Marriott Hotel that killed 12.

Indonesian courts have convicted 32 people in the Bali blasts -- three have been sentenced to death by firing squad.

Overall at least 150 terror suspects have been arrested so far. But police warn that key members of Jemaah Islamiyah remain at large and may be planning more strikes, possibly to coincide with the elections.

For most Indonesians, terrorism is not the main threat. Thou-sands have died in over the years in separatist and communal violence in outlying areas.

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