Magazine article Business Asia

Elections in Indonesia Polls Apart

Magazine article Business Asia

Elections in Indonesia Polls Apart

Article excerpt

"People power" swept Cory Aquino to power in the Philippines in the 1980s after the corrupt Marcos regime finally toppled.

In the 1990s equivalent in Indonesia, people's patience will emerge as the defining element of the country's political future.

So says Mr James Castle, president of The Castle Group and a man regarded as one of the foremost experts on business and politics in Jakarta.

In Mr Castle's eyes, Indonesians will be patient if they have confidence that their leaders can revive the troubled nation. If not, the public will demand change.

"That's why Suharto fell. That's why (President B.J.) Habibie may fall," Mr Castle said.

Indonesians face a long wait before they can go to the polls to give their verdict on Habibie, who assumed the leadership in May this year following the ouster of long-time dictator President Suharto.

Election rules will be drafted in November this year for parliamentary elections in May, 1999, with presidential elections slated for December, 1999.

Mr Castle believes the current election timetable will further destabilise the economy.

The risk, he claims, is that a clear presidential winner will emerge in parliamentary elections in May 1999 - "six long months away" from the presidential election.

"What kind of government will we have in Indonesia over those six months?" he asked.

Mr Castle, speaking at The Economist Conferences' seminar in Sydney, said foreign investors would shy away from Indonesia until political stability returned.

According to Mr Castle, Habibie has shown "political instinct" and unexpected leadership nous.

A crucial factor has been Habibie's ability to buy time as leader.

Upon taking power in May this year he immediately announced future elections, recognised political parties, released political prisoners, reopened talks on East Timor, and nominated his bitter rival Ginandjar Kartasamita as Minister for Economy and Finance. None of these moves was expected.

"So he bought himself some political space. He's won some important victories," Mr Castle said.

By contrast, President Habibie's main rivals, Amien Rais and Megawati Sukarnoputri, have failed to assert their claims to the presidency. …

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