Habibie, Golkar chief take offence at SM’s remarks

RESEARCH and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie and Golkar chairman Harmoko have responded negatively to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s recent comments linking market sentiments to the choice of the country’s next vice-president.

The strongest reaction came from Dr Habibie, who maintained that Indonesia’s future would not be dictated to by foreigners.

“I regard Pak Lee as a very wise statesman and someone who has done much for his country,” he said. “But as a nation, we must struggle for our own future. We will not offer our future to strangers.”

He was replying to a question from Golkar legislator Ekki Sjachrudin during a parliamentary hearing here on Tuesday.

SM Lee said last week that the Indonesian rupiah would weaken again if the market was uncomfortable with the choice of the next vice-president, and that this would trigger higher inflation, more bankruptcies and greater unemployment.

Addressing a Chinese New Year/Hari Raya dinner, he said the market had been “disturbed” by President Suharto’s remarks that his No. 2 should have a mastery of science and technology.

“They believed that this pointed to a minister whom they associated with Indonesia’s high-cost projects,” SM Lee said.

His comments were interpreted widely here as referring to Dr Habibie.

News reports yesterday quoted Dr Habibie, a German-trained engineer and close confidant of Mr Suharto, as saying that Indonesian leaders should not be chosen by the market.

He said: “How could the country’s choice of its national leaders be dictated to by the trading of dollars and stocks in Singapore. Give me a break.

“It would be sorrowful if the election of a nation’s leaders depended on the exchange rate or the price of steak in Singapore.”

Mr Harmoko rejected SM Lee’s views, telling Golkar supporters: “The crisis in Indonesia has nothing to do with our politics. It is an economic crisis.”

He said that the crisis here was also influenced by situations in South-east Asia and other parts of Asia.

In his address last week, SM Lee said the root of the current regional economic problems was political, as governments were more preoccupied with political difficulties and had not heeded the market’s warning signals. The Centre for Information and Development Studies, a Jakarta-based think-tank chaired by Dr Habibie, released a statement saying SM Lee’s comments “hurt the nation’s sense of sovereignty …”.

Miss Aisyah Aminy of the Muslim-based United Development Party joined in the criticism, saying that the Senior Minister had exaggerated the problems confronting the country.

“His perceptions are very different from our perceptions,” she told reporters in Jakarta on Monday. “Only Indonesians have the right to select their vice-president.”

She was quoted by the Republika newspaper as saying that the resolution of the economic crisis in the country would depend on measures decided by Indonesia.

“The name of the vice-president has never been a factor that determines everything,” she said.

Professor Juwono Sudarsono, the vice-governor of the National Resilience Institute, said SM Lee’s remarks on the situation in Indonesia would attract international attention.

“We can accept Lee’s statement as an opinion so long as he does not affect our national sovereignty,” he said.

Prof Juwono maintained that Singapore took an interest in what was happening in Indonesia because it wanted a South-east Asia that was politically and economically stable.

SM Lee’s comments have been reported by several regional newspapers.

One of them, the Utusan Malaysia, which picked up part of the speech from The Straits Times Interactive, carried responses by Mr Harmoko, Mrs Aisyah and Prof Juwono.

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