Habibie still undecided whether to run for office

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

PRESIDENT’S POLITICAL FUTURE

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie has said he is still undecided about running for the nation’s highest office next year.

He was reported to have said yesterday that it was too early to decide on this because he was too preoccupied with the country’s economic problems.

The President made the comment during a meeting with eight leaders of the Muhammadiyah’s Youth Organisation at the state palace on Monday.

Dr Habibie, the 62-year-old German-trained engineer and a protege of former President Suharto, had pledged last month that he would hold elections soon.

He had rejected the possibility that he would stay on for the remainder of what would have been Mr Suharto’s five-year term.

But he also said that he would not run for president and pleaded for more time with reformists arguing for the instant change of government.

The Indonesian leader adopted the same position during a meeting with leaders of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce.

Responding to reports that he would decline to run again, one of the Muslim youth leaders, Mr Hajriyanto Thohari, quoted the President as saying:

“I found the journalist’s question very strange because I had just begun my task as President and people were asking me about what would happen in 2000.”

The Jakarta Post yesterday said that Mr Thohari told reporters that Dr Habibie was preoccupied with resolving national issues rather than with his political future.

During his meeting with the youth leaders, the President took the opportunity to stress that he was his own man and not a puppet of Mr Suharto, which was how some people still perceived him.

He said: “You must understand that many guests come here.

“Some of them were very outspoken and didn’t agree with my position as Indonesia’s third President, and you must also know there were even guests who openly said:

” ‘You have no right to be seated there as President’.”

Despite being criticised for his links to his predecessor, Dr Habibie conceded that he had many fond memories of Mr Suharto whom he had known for almost 50 years.

He also disclosed that he telephoned Mr Suharto on his 77th birthday on June 8.

It was the first contact between the two since Dr Habibie took over as President on May 21.

“Frankly speaking, I do miss you, Pak,” Mr Hariyanto quoted Dr Habibie as saying.

And Mr Suharto’s reply to the new President?

“I miss you too.”

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