Indonesian general accused of war crimes moves a step closer to the presidency

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The Independent Online

The international community faces the nightmare scenario of an indicted war criminal leading the world's most populous Muslim nation after General Wiranto, the former head of the Indonesian armed forces, was nominated as a presidential candidate yesterday.

The international community faces the nightmare scenario of an indicted war criminal leading the world's most populous Muslim nation after General Wiranto, the former head of the Indonesian armed forces, was nominated as a presidential candidate yesterday.

General Wiranto, indicted by a United Nations-backed tribunal last year for alleged crimes against humanity in East Timor, was nominated by the Golkar party, the political vehicle of the former dictator, President Suharto.

The decision horrified foreign diplomats, who are shuddering at the prospect of their governments being forced to welcome General Wiranto on official visits and having to deal with him in the international arena.

Analysts believe the charismatic former defence minister has an excellent chance of winning Indonesia's first direct presidential election on 5 July. The incumbent, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is regarded as a spent force, while the current front-runner, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is expected to lose ground to General Wiranto.

Golkar won the largest share of the vote in recent parliamentary elections, a result attributed to a yearning for a return to the stability and relative economic prosperity of the Suharto era. That sentiment could work in General Wiranto's favour, with voters seeing him as the answer to their prayers for strong leadership after the Megawati presidency. Mrs Megawati is seen as remote and ineffectual.

General Wiranto was charged by the human rights tribunal in East Timor with failing to stop the violence that convulsed the former Indonesian province before an independence vote in 1999. Nearly 1,500 people were killed when soldiers and militia groups ran amok.

General Wiranto, who denies all wrongdoing, is on a US State Department visa watch-list. If prosecutors issue a warrant for his arrest, he could be detained if he travels overseas.

But most Indonesians are more concerned with domestic issues than General Wiranto's past. A shrewd political operator and self-confessed karaoke addict with film-star looks, he has been mobbed by adoring crowds on his barnstorming trip around the archipelago in the past six months.

Joseph Kristiadi, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said General Wiranto was a strong contender for the presidency. "Yudhoyono is a new player, and there are doubts about whether he's decisive enough," he said.

Greg Barton, a senior lecturer in politics at Deakin University in Australia, said: "As an individual, Wiranto is a likeable, charming character. With his military background, he is seen as a can-do person. Ironically, the very thing that makes him look threatening outside Indonesia is what makes him a strong candidate at home."

He warned that an international outcry against Mr Wiranto's nomination could backfire because anti-Western sentiment is running high in Indonesia.

Mr Yudhoyono, a popular former minister in the Megawati government, has a clean reputation and is preferred by foreign governments. But the former general, who has been nominated by the fledgling Democrat Party, is not respected as highly as General Wiranto.

General Wiranto, who has been pursuing an informal career as a singer, is a master of the television soundbite and has Golkar's formidable political machinery behind him.

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