No leaders ready to step into Suharto’s shoes, says minister

PRESIDENT Suharto’s renomination for another term as the country’s leader is a reflection of the fact that Indonesia’s political elite is not yet ready to replace him, Transmigration Minister Siswono Yudohusodo has said.

But the minister called for a gradual approach to leadership succession, warning that “sudden and violent” political change could undermine national stability.

“Political reform should be conducted gradually and carefully, with extreme caution and in the absence of social and political unrest,” newspapers on Wednesday quoted him as saying.

“We have witnessed for some 30 years the nation’s economic progress. And there was always a positive co-relation between political stability and economic growth,” he added.

He said that while the 76-year-old President had accepted renomination, he might have been content, prior to the economic crisis, to have assumed a “back-seat” role in the government.

Said Mr Siswono: “He knows that at his advanced age, the advisory role fits him best. He realises that the country is in need of figures who are physically fit and bright and wise enough to face the present difficulties.”

The minister noted that a failure to find alternative national leaders would be dangerous for Indonesia.

His comments came against the backdrop of increasing calls for the long-serving Mr Suharto to step down as well as to implement political and other reforms as a cure for Indonesia’s beleaguered economy.

Islamic scholar Amien Rais, who has declared his readiness to stand for president, told religious leaders and student activists here that a political transition was the answer to the current crisis.

But he appeared to have toned down on his rhetoric when calling for change in the sprawling archipelago:

“I may disagree with some of Mr Suharto’s policies and even suggested presidential succession four years ago, but I cannot agree with one that is held undemocratically and neglects the Constitution.

“Do not dream of revolutions. A violent succession will only cause bloodshed,” he warned.

Mr Siswono said there was recognition of a need for succession. But the elite were also conscious that they were not ready to fill the incumbent’s shoes and to see “this nation live without Pak Harto”, he said.

He added that political stability and economic prosperity were the hallmark of Mr Suharto’s rule over the last 30 years.

This had left little doubt among various groups in the country, including the ruling Golkar, armed forces and bureaucracy, as to who their choice for president should be, he noted.

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