Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Indonesian army backs Suharto

The Nation

JAKARTA, 19 May 1998 -- Indonesian military commander Gen Wiranto Monday turned down a parliamentarian proposal to ask President Suharto to step down and said the Indonesian armed forces preferred to see a cabinet reshuffle and moderate reform over presidential succession.

''Abri the armed forces perceives the proposal to be the opinion of some individuals, presented collectively, but not representative of the House of Representatives,'' Wiranto said.

All of Indonesia's six television and more than 600 radio stations broadcast the military announcement, repeating it every five minutes and giving the impression that the military was quite disturbed by the proposal in Parliament.

Wiranto held the impromptu press conference after meeting with the chiefs of staff of the army, air force, navy and the police.

Clad in their star-studded green uniforms, the generals sat next to Wiranto to face more than 100 foreign and local journalists at the Ministry of Defence in central Jakarta.

Lt Gen Prabowo Subianto, Suharto's son-in-law who is also the commander of the army strategic and reserve command (Kostrad), also attended the meeting and accompanied Wiranto in the conference.

The meeting was held some hours after House speaker Harmoko along with four deputies made their unexpected move. They supported the public call for reform and surprisingly called on President Suharto to step down.

''We believe that President Suharto has the wisdom and the heart to give way to another leader to lead the reform,'' said Harmoko, who is also the chairman of Suharto's ruling Golkar party and a 15-year member of the cabinet.

The call in parliament for Suharto to step down came after growing pressure to do so by various organisations of students, opposition politicians, Muslim and Christian leaders, union leaders, as well as business managers.

Jakarta remained a gloomy capital Monday night, with thousands of burned and looted buildings, from Bekasi in the eastern part of the city to Tangerang in the west. Huge shopping malls turned off their lights as bodies of burned-out cars still littered the quiet streets.

In housing areas from the kampungs to middle class areas, men were seen wielding clubs and knives to guard their houses.

In a move to soften his backing of Suharto, Wiranto said the military would help set up a reform council to work closely with intellectuals, students and parliamentarians to organise moderate reforms.

''Abri cannot tolerate people and organisations which advocate for their own interests,'' Wiranto said, as if trying to say that Harmoko and his deputies, who are widely known to have been Suharto loyalists in the past, switched sides in the last minute just to save themselves.

''Abri understands that the demand that President Suharto step down has no constitutional basis. Such a demand should be made by all the members of the House,'' Wiranto said.

As thousands of students from the provinces flowed into Jakarta, the general called on them not to conduct their planned nationwide protest Wednesday. The protest is to commemorate Indonesian students who established the first modern organisation, during the Dutch colonial period in 1908.

Earlier Monday, some 6,000 students from 46 universities rallied inside the compound of the House of Representatives, joined by a dozen retired generals and key opposition leader Amien Rais, and threatened not to leave until Suharto steps down.

''If today there is no clear explanation from Mr Harmoko, we will continue to wait here,'' a student representative said. ''Suharto must resign today.'' Amien, head of the 28 million-strong Muslim group Muhammidiyah, has pledged to lead a major protest Wednesday on the riot- scarred streets of Jakarta.

''Suharto, the people do not trust you any longer. Please abandon your power. Please return your mandate to the People's Consultative Assembly,'' he shouted.

Besides the thousands of students inside the compound, around 1,000 people gathered outside the gates to observe the spectacle, causing a major traffic jam.

No comments: