Indonesia's government loses favour because disasters are 'spirit warning'

Pangdaran, Indonesia - THE stream of disasters to hit Indonesia since 2004 is hurting the president's popularity, with many seeing the calamities as a sign mystical powers are angry with him, according to an opinion poll released Thursday.

"The public are beginning to interpret the disasters in a mystical, irrational and spiritual way," said Denny Ali, the director of the respected Indonesian Survey Institute.

"This belief is slowly beginning to be taken up by the majority, and will hurt Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's re-election chances in 2009," he said.

The poll surveyed 400 people in areas of Java island hit by the 27 May earthquake in the weeks following the disaster.

Since Mr Yudhoyono took office in 2004, Indonesia has been hit by three tsunami - including the Asian 2004 killer wave - two earthquakes, a major volcanic eruption, dozens of floods and landslides, as well as a airliner crash and several boat sinkings.

The poll showed that 78 per cent of people thought the disasters were nature's warning to Indonesia as whole, while 52.5 per cent saw them as a "warning or a sign of nature's anger at the leader or the government. "

Mysticism runs strong through majority-Muslim Indonesia's 220 million people, most of whom are poor, uneducated and politically unsophisticated. Java is home to almost half the population, and mystic beliefs there are especially strong.

The poll also showed that more than 53 per cent of respondents were not satisfied with the government's handling of the disasters, the most recent of which was Monday's tsunami on the southern coast of Java that killed more than 530.

Mr Ali warned that if a public promise made by vice president Jusuf Kalla to provide cash to earthquake survivors on Java was not fulfilled, then the government's popularity would drop still farther.

President Yudhoyono yesterday met with residents of Anyer, a town on Java's west coast, who told their startled premier that they had no idea how to react if a tsunami headed their way.

"This should not happen," he said when residents told him they were clueless about what to do if a tsunami warning was issued.

Mr Yudhoyono took office shortly before the December 2004 tsunami, which killed or left missing 170,000 people in Indonesia. After that disaster, he instructed all local officials to issue tsunami-preparedness guidelines to residents across the nation. "If it has not been carried out, I remind all regional government officials all over Indonesia," he said.

Anyer is near the epicentre of Wednesday's magnitude 6 earthquake. Thousands of frightened locals on Java's southern coast prepared to spend a fourth night in hillside camps overlooking the sea, as others did what they could to bring back a sense of normalcy to their shattered lives with the help of donations from aid agencies.

"We have food, but I don't have any appetite after what happened. I am still scared the water will rise again," said Sahrudin, 34, sifting through a pile of wreckage near his flattened home on the beach. "I don't think I will stay here, look for yourself."