Lecturer sees smooth succession in Indonesia

Suharto ‘will not undermine his legacy of development’

POLITICAL succession in Indonesia will proceed smoothly as President Suharto will not want instability to undermine his legacy as the country’s “father of development”.

“Given Indonesia’s bloody past, his greatest challenge and the one by which his legacy will be measured, is whether he can deliver a peaceful change of government,” said political-science lecturer Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“If Indonesia breaks up and goes haywire, then Suharto will enter history as another Sukarno,” he told a seminar organised by the NUS Political Science Department.

He said that since Indonesia gained independence in 1949, the country had only seen one major change of political leadership.

This had involved bloodshed when the incumbent Mr Suharto rode to power in 1967 by suppressing a communist-led coup. His predecessor Mr Sukarno, became President by leading the nationalist struggle against the Dutch.

Dr Bilveer Singh said: “Now the country appears to be gearing for another leadership. Unfamiliarity, uncertainty and fear about the consequences of power seem to have unsettled the country.”

A major reason for the growing preoccupation with succession was Mr Suharto’s age, he said.

When he stood for the sixth presidential elections last year, he was 72. If he stood again for the next elections in 1998, he would be 77. And if he serves a full seventh term until 2003, he would be 82.

In keeping with his long-held position on the succession issue, the Indonesian leader has not indicated whether he intends to seek re-election for a new term in 1998, but said he intended to serve out the current five-year term.

Dr Bilveer Singh said that Mr Suharto approached the succession question with “a heavy sense of responsibility”.

He said: “The stakes for Suharto and the political elites in Jakarta for a smooth transfer of power are very high.

“Since 1968, Indonesia has veered towards political stability and economic growth … All Indonesians, leaders and masses, have reached a consensus that the country must not start from “base zero” as they did in 1945 and 1965.”

Such pressures would ensure that Mr Suharto and the Indonesian military would work towards an arrangement that transferred power to a new leader.

Dr Bilveer Singh said Mr Suharto had not named a successor, and while there was no clear-cut heir-apparent, Vice-President Try Sutrisno and Research and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie were considered potential candidates.

In an interview with The Straits Times later, he said that the region also stood to gain from a peaceful leadership transition in Indonesia.

“Any change of leadership in Jakarta would have ramifications for the region,” he said.

Besides being the fourth largest country in the world, it has also become closely integrated with the region and lies astride major international waterways.

Said Dr Bilveer Singh: “The stakes are very high for the region. A smooth transfer of power will remove once and for all the view some countries hold that leadership change in Indonesia is an unpredictable and bloody affair.”

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