Habibie’s remarks a call for validation, says aide

The Indonesian leader respected the SM and he wants Mr Lee and the S’pore Govt to respect him too, says aide

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie wants the Singapore Government, in particular Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, to respect him as Indonesia’s leader.

Explaining Dr Habibie’s recent remarks to Taiwanese journalists that Singapore was a country of “real racists” where Malays could never be military officers, a presidential aide, Mr Umar Juoro, told The Sunday Times: “Habibie has still not forgotten Lee Kuan Yew’s comments about how the rupiah would drop if he became vice-president of Indonesia.

“His attacks on Singapore are being driven by this residual ill-feeling about those remarks, which he felt were inappropriate. He wants mutual respect. He wants respect from Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew and, in return, he will respect them.”

SM Lee had said last February that the financial markets were “disturbed” by former President Suharto’s criteria for selection of a vice-president – that Indonesia’s No. 2 should have a mastery of science and technology.

Many in the market and elsewhere saw the criteria as the strongest indication that he would pick then Research and Technology Minister Habibie as his running mate.

Since becoming president in May, the German-trained engineer has complained privately and publicly that Singapore had not been friendly enough to his government.

A Cabinet minister, who did not want to be named, told The Sunday Times that Dr Habibie wanted “validation from Lee Kuan Yew” because SM Lee was “someone he respected as a statesman who had built up Singapore into what it is today”. He noted: “There is a certain degree of ambivalence towards Singapore. He respects the Senior Minister and Singapore’s accomplishments. But there is also this concern that sometimes Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew are part of a big conspiracy to protect the ethnic Chinese in South-east Asia.”

Presidential aide Umar said that while Dr Habibie’s remarks were “personal”, they reflected unhappiness, especially among some ministers, that Singapore was being used as a “refuge” for economic criminals, many of whom are ethnic Chinese. A close confidante of the Habibie family said that the comments were not aimed at diverting attention from domestic problems.

The more specific objective was to “pin Singapore down on race issues, so that it would be easier to justify and force the Singapore Government to sign an extradition treaty with Jakarta to get these economic criminals and their money back on Indonesian territory”.

“This is only the first salvo he has fired. More will be coming until he and his supporters get what they want.”

Besides this, the source said that Dr Habibie and his inner circle of advisers, largely from the influential Association of Muslim Intellectuals, were also not happy that Singapore was allowing opposition figures, like Dr Amien Rais of the National Mandate Party, to speak in the Republic.

Meanwhile, the leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nadhlatul Ulama, criticised Dr Habibie for his comments. “He has no sense of politics. His comments on Singapore are an example of how he has caused unnecessary problems,” the Jawa Pos daily yesterday quoted Mr Abdurrahman Wahid as saying.

The English-language Indonesian Observer also hit out at Dr Habibie yesterday.

In an editorial, it wrote: “It is quite astonishing that despite his heavy task of steering the country away from the dangers of a further economic crisis and political anarchy, President Habibie has still found time to keep himself busy with trivial matters which are beyond his line of duty as president.”

Posted in Indonesia