Abri denies it was forced to nominate Habibie

Military is independent, senior officer insists.

THE Indonesian armed forces (Abri) has denied suggestions that it was forced to nominate Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie as its vice-presidential candidate.

“It is not true that Abri’s decision was made under external pressure or influence from civilians,” said Lt-General Bambang Yudhoyono, the military’s new chief of socio-political affairs.

“Abri is independent enough. Abri can think purely even though it also has to listen to society’s aspirations.”

Lt-Gen Bambang, reiterating comments made by other senior officers, told reporters here that Abri did not differentiate between civilians and the military in deciding its candidate.

He said: “If Abri determines that the best person for one period is from civilian ranks, it will choose a civilian.”

He dismissed any notion that the military was divided on the matter and declined to comment whether Abri officers had actually decided on another candidate before making a U-turn and nominating Dr Habibie.

Sources told The Straits Times that there was a split between support for the incumbent Vice-President, Gen Try Sutrisno, and the 61-year-old German-trained engineer.

Officers supporting Gen Try were said to be upset with Dr Habibie’s efforts to wrest control of strategic industries and procurement decisions from the military.

They were also upset with his links to Islamic groups like the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals’ Association (ICMI), of which he is the chairman.

A consensus was reached, particularly after Dr Habibie received support from outgoing Abri chief Feisal Tanjung and other key military figures, including President Suharto’s son-in-law, Lt-General Prabowo Subianto, the newly-appointed Army Strategic Reserve commander.

Senior officers, many of them appointed to key positions in the military by Mr Suharto, are also believed to have resisted moves to oppose Dr Habibie’s candidacy given that he was Mr Suharto’s personal choice for the No 2 post.

Lt-Gen Bambang said that the military would not back down on its choice – a view echoed by other officers, including new Abri chief Wiranto.

General Wiranto said that Abri would not waver in its support for Dr Habibie. “A decision of Abri today will remain the same tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and hereafter,” he said on Monday.

Meanwhile, former Cabinet minister Emil Salim reiterated his intention to proceed in his bid for the vice-presidency.

News reports yesterday quoted him as saying that he would only stop his campaign after the five factions in the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) announced their candidate during the MPR session next month.

“My stance is, before the assembly names anyone for vice-president, the process to nominate people for the post is still ongoing,” he said.

The 1,000-member MPR will elect the next president on March 10 and his running mate the day after.

Abri, the ruling Golkar party, the United Development Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party have nominated Mr Suharto and Dr Habibie for the respective posts.

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