JAKARTA INDONESIA Christians Worry Over Weak Electoral Finish by President By Richard S. Ehrlich
Published in Washington, D.C.
July 10, 2004
Christians worry over weak electoral finish by president
See rights threatened by other candidate in runoff
By Richard S. Ehrlich
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Megawati Sukarnoputri's weak performance in the first round of elections this week is bad news for Indonesia's Christian minority, who see her as the only candidate who could defend their rights in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
"All the Christian people must have voted for Megawati," said Tahan M. Siregar, a 59-year-old Protestant religious studies administrator.
"All our people are afraid of bombs...You can die...We have families."
Mrs. Megawati, elected in 1999, placed a distant second in Monday's election with 26 percent of the vote, barely edging out third-place finisher Gen. Wiranto with 22 percent, according to unofficial projections.
The top finisher, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, received 34 percent of the vote and is strongly favored to win a runoff in September.
Almost 90 percent of Indonesia's population of 220 million is Muslim, and so are all five presidential candidates, including Mrs. Megawati.
About 9 percent of Indonesians are Christian Ñ two-thirds Protestant and the rest Roman Catholic.
"Megawati is very, very good for protecting the Christians. With the other [candidates], we are afraid they will make this country only for the Muslims," Mr. Siregar said after Monday's voting.
"With Megawati, America and Indonesia will be OK together."
At a shabby money-exchange booth a young cashier said she, too, voted for Mrs. Megawati.
When asked why, she smiled and gently touched a small gold crucifix dangling from her neck.
"The other candidates are more Muslim," she said. Across the street, a Protestant businesswoman lunching with her Muslim friends displayed a campaign badge bearing Mrs. Megawati's face.
"I voted for Megawati because of my religion, even though I don't really like her," she said.
Mrs. Megawati, whose paternal grandmother was Balinese Hindu, was seen by supporters as a secular leader. The two former generals in the fray also projected a secular image and attracted some Christian votes.
But Christians remember when the military slaughtered East Timor's Catholics and Muslims during the territory's long years under Indonesian control and during its vote to become independent in 1999.
In 2000, East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician, Jose Ramos-Horta, directly accused Gen. Wiranto of committing war crimes.
Gen. Wiranto has opposed a proposal for an international court to try him for his former role as Indonesia's defense minister and chief of the armed forces overseeing East Timor.
Gen. Yudhoyono also has a murky past as a commander in the repressive armed forces under the dictator Suharto.
The other two candidates, Amien Rais and Hamzah Haz, were closely aligned with Islamic issues, and therefore not expected to attract many Christian votes.
When Suharto's U.S.-backed regime collapsed in 1998, anti-Chinese riots swept Jakarta and other cities, resulting in the deaths of 500 to 1,100 Chinese Indonesians including many Christians.
Before Mrs. Megawati was elevated to the presidency in 2000, Christians and Muslims suffered hundreds of deaths in clashes on outlying islands, especially on the Malukus.