Suharto given new security powers to counter unrest

Regional Economic CRUNCH

PRESIDENT Suharto was yesterday granted new security powers to counter social unrest and subversion.

The People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country’s top policy-making body, gave no details of the powers in a decree announcing the move.

“The MPR has given the President the special duty and privilege to take steps deemed necessary to rescue and maintain the nation’s unity and avoid social unrest and other subversive acts,” the decree said.

House Speaker Harmoko, who signed the five-page decree, said that the use of such powers by the 76-year-old leader was in line with the Constitution.

Indonesian armed forces (Abri) chief General Wiranto, who chairs a commission on the issue, said that it was wrong to see the “special powers” as being “unlimited”.

“That allegation is not true,” he said, adding that the President would have to take into account many factors, including current laws and human-rights considerations, before using such powers.

The passing of the decree, which sources here said was at Mr Suharto’s request, comes at a time of deepening economic crisis and rising social unrest.

Noted Golkar executive Din Syamsuddin: “It is like having an umbrella to prepare for a rainy day. The effect is psychological because we are prepared for whatever that might happen in the future.”

The powers were first granted to Mr Suharto in 1988 and revoked in 1993 after the MPR deemed it unnecessary.

Some believe that the powers are not meant for him but to give his successor a constitutional basis to declare a state of emergency and assume direct command of all military units and the regional authorities, should the occasion arise.

Analysts believe that such powers will be necessary if his successor is a civilian, such as Research and Technology Minister B. J. Habibie, who is now slated to be Vice-President.

But human-rights advocates fear it can be used to silence critics and suppress peaceful demonstrations which have been gaining momentum as Indonesia confronts its worst economic crisis in 30 years.

The Forum Keadilan magazine reported yesterday that the Abri chief had signaled he would take a hard line against protesters to ensure national stability, Reuters reported.

General Wiranto said in an interview: “If people are hot-tempered and ready to cut down the symbols of the state, yes, I will gladly prohibit them. If they are still determined, I will be determined. The difference is they are breaking the law, I am protecting the law.”

Thousands of Indonesian students yesterday took part in demonstrations. Hundreds rallied at two campuses in the capital and similar protests were staged in the cities of Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Ujungpandang and Bandung.

Besides announcing the decree on special powers for the President, legislators yesterday also gave full backing to Mr Suharto’s statement of accountability and also agreed on the policy guidelines for the incoming government.

Mr Harmoko and five other assembly leaders representing the different factions, meanwhile, met Mr Suharto at the state palace last night to verify his decision to stand for office.

Mr Harmoko told reporters after the 10-minute meeting that the President had agreed to stand for the post and implement the state policy guidelines for the government when elected.

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