Abri set to back Habibie as V-P

Decision reached after consensus among factions.

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) looks set to support Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie as the country’s next vice-president.

Military sources here told The Straits Times that the armed forces was leaning towards him after striking a consensus among different factions in Abri, at its three-day annual meeting of commanders last week.

“We have agreed to back Dr Habibie because that is what Pak Harto wants,” said a senior Abri officer involved in the deliberations.

“We have also agreed if the President changes his mind and appoints someone else at the eleventh hour, we will support his choice.”

The deputy speaker of Parliament and Abri parliamentary faction head, Lieutenant-General Syarwan Hamid, also alluded to this possibility on Saturday, saying that the military had named only one person as its vice-presidential candidate.

Asked if this was Dr Habibie, he replied: “You may be right. There will be no changes in the armed forces’ decision.”

The comments of these high-ranking officers take place against a background of growing support for the 61-year-old German-trained engineer and close confidant of President Suharto, who had given the broadest hint that he was his choice after presenting a list of criteria which a vice-president must possess.

That message seems to have permeated downwards.

The ruling Golkar party said last week that it was backing Dr Habibie along with parliamentary speaker Harmoko for the vice-presidency.

Dr Habibie has also received backing from the Muslim-based United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party.

Conventional thinking here has been that Abri would be more comfortable with a military figure in the number two post, with some backing incumbent General Try Sutrisno as its candidate.

Many younger officers have been resentful of Dr Habibie’s efforts to take away strategic industries and procurement decisions from them, with the result that he now has a bigger say in what equipment and where it ought to be bought from.

Indeed, in the run-up to the 1993 People’s Consultative Assembly, observers said that the military took the unusual step of supporting Gen Try as its vice-presidential candidate, fearing that Mr Suharto would nominate Dr Habibie or even retain then Vice-President Sudharmono for another term.

Sources said that the military was unlikely to pull off a similar stunt. Noted a senior officer: “It is wishful thinking for us to go against the President’s wishes. The Abri of 1993 is very different from today’s Abri.”

Dr Habibie’s fortunes appeared to have taken a temporary dip last week with the replacement of his close ally, military chief Feisal Tanjung, by General Wiranto, who is known to distance himself from Islamic forces and supporting Golkar outright.

But military insiders said that Dr Habibie’s star was still shining given countervailing support for him from other key military figures, including Mr Suharto’s son-in-law, Major- General Prabowo Subianto, who was promoted recently from head of the Special Forces to lead the Army Strategic Reserve Command.

Posted in Indonesia