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Indonesian Party Rally Fizzles

May 29, 1999

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Campaigning for the ruling Golkar Party fizzled Saturday when no one showed up for one rally and another drew a fraction of the crowd that turned out a day earlier for a popular opposition leader.

About 3,000 people gathered at noon outside a soccer field in the eastern part of the capital, shouting ``Long live Golkar!″ in support of the party that has dominated Indonesian politics for decades.

The gathering paled in comparison to the turnout Friday for an opposition party headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the presidential frontrunner. Hundreds of thousands brought the capital’s traffic to a standstill in a show of support for the daughter of Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno. Like many Indonesians, Sukarno used only one name.

In a speech at Saturday’s rally, Golkar chief Akbar Tanjung tried to paint the party as peace-loving and all-encompassing _ and capable of winning the June 7 parliamentary election.

``We can really unite the country,″ Tanjung said. ``Golkar accommodates people from all walks of life and from all religious beliefs.″

He also spoke of fixing the country’s economic problems, which developed under Golkar’s stewardship, and helping farmers and other low-income groups.

Few of Golkar’s yellow flags could be seen in the crowd. Still, turnout was better than at a second rally more than two hours later, when not a single yellow flag was visible.

Golkar, the party of former President Suharto, has drawn some crowds outside Jakarta but has kept a low profile in the sprawling metropolis of 11 million people.

Its flags have been burned and its vehicles vandalized during other public appearances. On Golkar’s first day of rallies Monday, riot police had to disperse an angry mob outside one of its offices.

The mob claimed the party reneged on promises of free T-shirts and the equivalent of $6 to attend its rallies.

The next day, the National Election Commission said it would send a strong warning letter to Golkar over the offer and the presence of weapons among its guards, saying further violations of election laws could lead to a ban on campaigning.

Most Indonesians have been unable to separate their feelings for Golkar from those for Suharto, who has denied allegations that he and his family amassed a fortune during his 32-year autocratic rule. He resigned a year ago amid riots and student protests.

Golkar easily won past elections, drawing 70 percent of the vote in 1997, amid persistent allegations of vote-rigging. It was one of only three officially sanctioned parties.

This time, there are 48, including three major opposition groups that have formed a loose coalition in an effort to ensure Golkar doesn’t win.

While the campaign has largely been nonviolent, clashes between rival parties have increased in recent days.

Police in Pekalongan, about 275 miles east of Jakarta, said Saturday that at least six people were injured the night before in two separate clashes between supporters of two Islamic parties, the National Awakening Party and the United Development Party.

Update hourly