Indonesians Look Past New Leader

By Pintak, Lawrence | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Indonesians Look Past New Leader


Pintak, Lawrence, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


JAKARTA, Indonesia - Newly installed President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie led his country into the post-Suharto era yesterday with a vow to increase democratic freedoms, prompting a mix of relief and suspicion from riot-weary Indonesians.

Few believed the close ally of Indonesia's longtime ruler would be more than a transitional figure, buying time for emotions to cool.

"I would like to express my commitment to . . . execute reformation that is gradual and constitutional in all aspects," Mr. Habibie said in a nationwide address just hours after the resignation of President Suharto after 32 years in office.

Mr. Habibie, who had been vice president, pledged "to revitalize the social and economic life, increase democratic political life to follow the demands of the times and the generation, and uphold the law."

But he made no mention of early elections, a demand being heard even from within Mr. Habibie's own camp. And the economic problems that created the political crisis remain as severe as ever.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin said, "Habibie was Suharto's vice president, and we obviously had very serious concerns about the economic conditions under Suharto.

"We want economic reform and political reform in Indonesia," Mr. Rubin said, calling on Mr. Habibie to "commit himself" to the program of reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Food and fuel price increases required by the program helped spark the unrest that brought down Suharto.

Within hours of the swearing-in, both the political establishment and the opposition were speculating on how long Mr. Habibie would last in office.

"I would anticipate that he will be forced into new elections within three months," predicted one minister in the outgoing Cabinet.

Most of the students who had occupied the parliament building for three days began heading home but vowed to return if a plenary session of parliament was not quickly convened to take up serious reform.

"We will keep our focus on this institution," Rama Pratama, the head of the University of Indonesia student body, told reporters outside parliament. "The most important reform is institutional reform. And we will see whether parliament executes these reforms."

"In general what was demanded by the students has been achieved - Suharto has resigned. We now give the opportunity to Mr. Habibie to map out the agenda for a clean government structure and policies that will truly relieve the people from the crisis," said another student leader.

The army, too, began to head back to the barracks. The presidential palace and central square around the independence monument remained sealed off by tanks and troops, but other sections of the capital were slowly returning to normal.

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