Habibie is still in the running

He insists it is misleading to assume that the party with the most votes will win the presidency automatically.

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie has rejected opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri’s claim to a popular mandate following last month’s general election, insistingthat it is misleading to assume that the party with the most votes will win the presidency automatically.

Giving his analysis of the election results to The Straits Times in a 2 1/2-hour interview on Sunday, he made it clear that such a reading of the results was too simplistic and not in accordance with Indonesia’s Constitution.

In any case, he said, her party, while leading others in the vote count, was by no means the overwhelming winner. And he left no doubt that he was very much in the running for the job.

He said that as in the American model, the Indonesian Constitution provided for an indirect election of the president by an electoral college.

In practical terms, this meant that 700 Indonesians who were members of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), and not the 116 million voters, had the right to decide if he or any of five other eligible candidates would be president.

Anticipating arguments about the will of the people and how that should be taken into account, he said that when Indonesians went to the polls last month, they were aware who the presidential candidate of each party contesting the general election was. Thus, as he saw it, there was no denial of the people’s aspirations.

However, he left open the possibility that the Constitution could be amended in the future to provide for a direct election of the president the next round.

For now, Indonesia’s best son or daughter would become the next president, he said in the interview, his first since the election, the results of which have yet to be proclaimed officially though latest vote counts put his party, the Golkar, at least 12 percentage points behind Ms Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (Struggle).

So did he think he was the best man for the job then? “I leave it to the people,” said the German-trained aeronautical engineer who took over from former President Suharto only 13 months ago.

Would he accept Ms Megawati as president if the MPR so decided? “Of course, I’m a democrat,” he said, adding: “If the people want to have her, then I will accept it because I have full confidence that the people will take the best.” But he also made it a point to say that as Indonesia would have to face numerous challenges ahead in the new millennium, the new president would have to be a “high-quality” person.

“No experimenting with 211 million people,” he said as he went on to recount what he had achieved during his watch as Indonesia’s third president, chief of which were the holding of a free, fair and open general election and stabilising the economy.

Accompanied by several ministers and aides, including State Secretary Muladi and Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah, he was in an upbeat mood as he spoke at length about reforming Indonesia’s politics and economy as well as the importance of good ties with Singapore.

There were also glimpses of “Habibie the family man” as he talked of his longing to see the twins, a boy and a girl, newly born to his second son and still in Singapore after delivery last month – and just that hint of hurt at the scorn heaped on him by some critics.

“There is a lot of presumption of me as a stupid guy, you know, big-spender and knows nothing about anything and not more than a puppet of the former president and so on,” he noted as he laughed mirthlessly at those jibes.

Hence his desire to let people in South-east Asia know, through The Straits Times, that though he became president overnight in May last year, “without preparation”, he had led his country through a “fair, just, transparent and open election” a year later.

The June 7 ballot was to choose 462 parliamentary representatives from among 48 parties, but 99 per cent of the voters had cast their ballots for six main parties.

Given that the top three or four parties by vote count had been around in various guises since Indonesia became independent, his interpretation of the results was that the people rallied behind, essentially, the same political forces. He described the election as “accelerated evolution” rather than revolution, and was happy that there was no single dominant party, for that would have meant a return to the times when the Golkar ruled the roost.

He was emphatic that no party could claim to have a majority in the MPR; his estimate was that Ms Megawati’s PDI-P would muster no more than 23 per cent of the seats in the MPR, with his Golkar, in second place with about 17 per cent. As voters knew in advance who the presidential candidate of each of the six main parties was, that meant there were “only six real candidates” with “legitimacy to participate” in the November presidential contest.

And these were Ms Megawati, Mr Amien Rais of the National Mandate Party (PAN), Mr Hamzah Haz of the United Development Party (PPP), Mr Abdurrahman Wahid of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), Mr Yusril Mahendra of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and himself.

Foreclosing the possibility of “dark horses” emerging later, and doubtless aware that some in his own Golkar party had whispered aloud about dropping him as its candidate, he insisted no one else was eligible unless any or some of these six parties called special congresses to change their nominees. Of Ms Megawati’s claim on the presidency, which she reportedly made in an interview last week, he said simply: “I have given you the mechanism. It is clear enough, the rationale … You can make your own conclusions.”

And by pointing out that physical and mental health was one of the criteria for eligibility, he did not leave it to imagination that the semi-blind Mr Wahid would probably not qualify.

Maintaining that it was neither his style nor in the Indonesian culture for him to declare himself the best candidate, he also ducked the question of whom he would pick as his vice-president. Not Indonesian culture to name names, and counter-productive too, he said.

Nor was he drawn to the idea of a grand coalition government with Ms Megawati, as one of his aides had suggested he would. Indonesia, he said, operated a presidential system, not a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy in which coalition governments were possible.

He did let on that he had met four of the other five candidates – only Ms Megawati had yet to see him – but insisted this was in his capacity as president, not another candidate. The discussions they had were about what lay ahead for Indonesia and the region, not about who should occupy the palace.

Would the voting in the MPR be open? No, one-man-one-vote, in secret, he said, just like in Singapore.

His last word on the subject was that when the time came, he would go to the MPR to press his candidacy, not summon the MPR to his palace. “They should call me. I’ll come. Of course … I’m not God or King and not setting up a dynasty. I just could be anybody. I could be your next-door neighbour.”

Posted in Indonesia