Magazine article Newsweek

A Harebrained Schemer

Magazine article Newsweek

A Harebrained Schemer

Article excerpt

Habibie is more mad scientist than politician

THE MAN IS A CRONY'S CRONY. WHEN FORMER PRESIDENT SUHARTO FLEW BACK to Jakarta from Cairo two weeks ago to face an escalating political crisis, his vice president, B. J. Habibie, rushed to the airport to greet "SGS," or "Super-Genius Suharto," as he likes to call his patron. As Suharto descended from the plane, Habibie, 61, stepped forward and kissed him on the hand -three times. Last week, sworn in for what is likely to be a short term as Indonesia's president, Habibie promised a government "free from corruption, collusion and nepotism." But after a long run as Suharto's lap dog, Habibie seems to he part of the problem, not its solution.

Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie-his friends call him Rudy-became Suharto's foster son at 13, after his own father died. He owes everything to Suharto's patronage. Habibie was minister of Research and Technology before Suharto promoted him to vice president two months ago. The Army has never liked him, and he has no political support, apart from a group of pro- Suharto Muslim leaders. He is widely ridiculed for his harebrained development schemes (he has spent $2 billion on the needless production of an Indonesian jetliner).

Habibie is more mad scientist than politician. He trained as an aeronautical engineer in Germany and worked there for an aeronautics firm before Suharto drafted him into government service. A tiny man with a photographic memory, Habibie often chatters himself into trouble. …

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