Indonesia Puts on an Old Face

Old habits of former dictatorships don't always fade quickly in a young democracy. Indonesia, in the run-up to its first direct presidential election July 5, is a case in point.

Six years after democracy returned to this huge Southeast Asian nation, it seems unable to shake off government crackdowns on dissidents or the political allure of former generals.

The election front-runner is former chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has revived the notion that only the military can keep radical Islam in check in the world's largest Muslim nation. That's an easy stump line against President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has failed to prevent Islamic terrorist attacks in Indonesia and is trailing the former general in the polls.

Running third is former military chief Wiranto, who is wanted in East Timor for crimes against humanity. And he's the nominee of Golkar, the party used by former dictator Suharto to maintain his rule. It regained some power in April's parliamentary elections.

While Mrs. Megawati has brought stability to Indonesia, her government has also detained peaceful protesters and jailed some newspaper editors. Last week, it expelled a longtime foreign critic, Sidney Jones, of the Belgium-based International Crisis Group, and threatened 19 other political civil groups that often criticize government actions.

Such moves work against the remarkable progress made in Indonesia since the end of three-decade Suharto rule. With their practice of moderate Islam, most Indonesians reject radical Muslim rule, as elections have shown. They would probably also want healthy criticism of government and a fresh crop of civilian, rather than ex-military, politicians.

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