Assembly ‘may have to force Habibie to probe Suharto’

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

A presidential aide says the leader will be reluctant to take his predecessor to court on graft charges because of their close association.

A PRESIDENTIAL spokesman yesterday conceded that Dr B. J. Habibie would be reluctant to take his predecessor to court on corruption charges, but said the leader would have no choice if legislators issued a specific directive for him to do so or risk impeachment charges.

Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, commenting on an ongoing debate within the country’s highest legislative chamber, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), said a decree directing Dr Habibie to investigate the alleged wealth of former President Suharto was necessary.

“Otherwise, he will be reluctant to take Suharto to court because of his close association with him,” she told The Straits Times.

“A decree would make him duty-bound to take action because if he does not, he will be breaking the law,” she noted.

The next MPR, to be formed after next year’s election, could otherwise reject Dr Habibie’s accountability speech, she said.

She added that the success of his presidency “would be judged on the extent to which he carried out the decree”.

Speaking on the sidelines of a special MPR session to dismantle Suharto-era controls and set new election dates, she stopped short of agreeing with calls for a decree specifically targeting Mr Suharto, his family and close friends who allegedly amassed a fortune during his 32 years in power.

With all five factions in the MPR now calling openly on the government to intensify its flagging probe into the Mr Suharto wealth, the debate has turned on the need for such a specific decree.

Dr Dewi said that while the MPR could “send a strong signal for the President to take action and also play to the gallery” by issuing such a decree, such a move would have serious drawbacks.

For one, it would exclude many others from the previous government who might be tainted by corruption.

“One should not prosecute only Suharto. We should investigate everyone involved in corruption. Cronyism is not new in this country. It has been here for the last 30 years,” she said.

She suggested, like other members from Golkar and the armed forces in particular, that calls for investigation be included in a draft decree on the eradication of corruption, collusion and nepotism that has been proposed by a multi-party working committee.

The secretary-general of the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP), Mr Tosari Widjaya, said yesterday after three hours of debate that the PPP was still pushing for a separate decree to be passed.

“Only then can we say that we have met people’s aspirations,” he said, pointing to demonstrations in the capital against the alleged excesses of the former regime.

Other PPP members noted that there could be objections from the ruling Golkar party for a separate decree on Mr Suharto because “it might open a can of worms and implicate others”.

The nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), the smallest party in the MPR with just 11 members, went furthest in calling for action against Mr Suharto by suggesting that the scope of the probe be broadened to encompass other misdeeds.

“He needs to account not only for the huge amounts of wealth he accumulated,” said faction chairman Buttu Hutapea.

“He also has to explain the Trisakti killings and the May riots which threw this country into political turmoil.”

He said that the PDI proposed a separate decree which called on Mr Suharto to account for his actions between May 11 and May 21 this year – the period of his seventh and last term in office.

At the other end of the spectrum of views was a call for a pardon for Mr Suharto.

But Golkar faction leader Marzuki Darusman suggested the country might not yet be ready for that.

“We need to resolve the matter once and for all. An amnesty might be a possible way to do that. But it will not bring a sense of justice to the public,” he said.

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