by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA -- The Indonesian Armed Forces has launched a secret operation to unseat Megawati Sukarnoputri from her position as the chairwoman of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party, believing that she is planning to challenge the incumbent President Suharto in the 1998 presidential election.
A source closed to both the military and the party has told the American Reporter that the campaign was discussed and arranged by top- ranking officers of the Armed Forces, popularly known here as ABRI, during one of their regular meetings on March 24-28 at ABRI headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, Indonesia. The nation is the fourth most populous on Earth, and has its largest Islamic population.
"They want to topple Megawati because she is likely to run for president in the next election. The move will obviously humiliate President Suharto," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous in the exclusive interview.
Mr. Suharto rose to power in 1965 following an abortive coup d'etat blamed on the communists. He has since then been elected president on six successive occasions, each for five years, but no one has ever challenged his nomination and re-election.
Supporters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, locally known as PDI, however, launched a campaign earlier this year to nominate Ms. Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the late President Sukarno, the charismatic and revolutionary predecessor of Mr. Suharto.
The source also said that Fatimah Achmad, a leading party figure who is more favorably disposed toward the ABRI, was selected by the plotters to replace Megawati. "She also attended a session in those meetings and okayed the proposal," the source said.
No such plot has been reported in the Indonesian media. Local newspapers, however, reported in March that the meeting was scheduled to discuss "some security issues," and particularly "how to secure the next general election."
The meeting was reportedly led by ABRI Commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung and attended by other leading generals, including Army Chief Gen. R. Hartono, ABRI Chief of General Affairs Lt. Gen. Soeyono, ABRI Chief of Socio-Political Affairs Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid, and other colleagues from the navy, the air force and the police.
Both Gen. Tanjung and Ms. Achmad were unavailable for comment. But head of the PDI research and development department Kwik Kian Gie charged openly that there has been a campaign to topple Megawati launched by some military district chiefs and officials.
Kwik said the officials had been pressuring leaders of the PDI chapters and branches to push for an extraordinary congress, charging that ABRI wants to see Megawati resign but in "a legal manner," which is why they urged the branches and chapters to convene.
"The approaches they use vary but their goal is the same: to topple Megawati," Kwik was quoted by The Jakarta Post as saying. "There is hard evidence of this campaign."
Some party executives, including Sabam Sirait and Sukowalujo Mintorahardjo, also said that they are receiving pressures to drop their suggestion to nominate Megawati as the next presidential candidate.
The source also said that ABRI is using supporters of the PDI rival board as well as its self-appointed "PDI chief" Jusuf Merukh to help the secret operation.
Mr. Merukh, a senior party member dismissed a few years ago, still has his influence within the PDI. He will likely ask his assistant Gerry Mbatemboy, who has a seat on the board of the party, to help launch a special meeting of the party congress.
In a related development, a meeting of some 190 supporters of the PDI rival board was dismissed on Monday after hundreds of Megawati's supporters invaded the meeting place. The planning meeting was supposed to be a prelude to an extraordinary party congress during which the rival board planned to establish its complete lineup intended to replace the board of Megawati. Fights broke out as the Megawati supporters poured into the meeting.
Following the brawl, some of the supporters of Megawati interrogated the planned meeting's participants and found 19 of them in the possession of the membership cards of the ruling party Golkar, which supports President Suharto. They have already reported the findings to the police, who are likely to reveal the existence of the secret operation in the near future, sources said.
The PDI has 27 chapters and 305 smaller branches across the country.
Andreas Harsono covers Indonesia for the American Reporter