Habibie under fire

Politicians, intellectuals and military officers criticise him for avoiding controversial issues and veering away from reality in his speech.

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie came under severe attack yesterday for skirting controversial issues and veering away from reality when he defended his short reign before the national assembly to garner support for another term in office.

Politicians, intellectuals, students and even senior military officers criticised him for misleading the public with statistics and charts without grasping the weight of public hostility the damage his government had done to Indonesia in the last 17 months.

The first salvo, and perhaps the most critical to Dr Habibie’s political survival, were fired by chief rival Megawati Sukarnoputri and her allies from other factions in the 700-strong People’s Consultative Assembly, whose decision on whether to accept the speech could make or break the German-trained engineer.

The leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) rejected outright his record of achievements during his 512 days in power.

“What he said in his speech does not concur with the reality on the ground,” she said.

“Personally … I see that the President’s accountability speech should be rejected.” Citing the example of the Bank Bali loans scandal, she noted that in the speech, “there were matters that he could not explain well”.

Such views were also shared by Mr Matori Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Nation Awakening Party, led by the third presidential aspirant, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid.

“It is more of a form of apology for all the wrong doings and shortcomings,” he said. Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung, who holds the mandate to withdraw Dr Habibie’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate if his speech was rejected, stopped short of criticising the speech, except to say that some parts needed clarification.

Indeed, academics had a field day tearing apart his claim of success in restoring economic and political stability to the country.

Economist Sri Mulyani Endarwati of the state-run University of Indonesia said the speech failed to mention a prominent feature of the economic crisis – the “loss of confidence” in the government itself.

Dr Tony Prasetiantono of the Gadjah Mada University said despite Dr Habibie’s boast about reviving the financial sector, the bank re-structuring programme had not been completed.

Army generals too entered the fray.

A senior officer said that his response for letting East Timor become independent was “far from satisfactory”.

He said: “One year in power and he has let the 27th province of Indonesia go. You can imagine how many provinces we will lose if we let him become President for another five years.”

In a strident editorial titled “Deceitful grandstanding”, The Jakarta Post, calling on Dr Habibie to step down, said that his speech was “designed wholly to support his shameless bid to stay in power”.

“His stratagem remained the same,” it said.

“He went to great lengths to flaunt what he claims is his record of economic achievement since taking office, but deftly sidestepped the crucial issues which have completely destroyed domestic and international trust in his leadership.”

What will happen in the Indonesian parliament right up to the presidential election

Friday, Oct 15
* Eleven factions in MPR set up respective teams to examine President B.J. Habibie’s accountability speech.
* They are allotted 30 minutes each to make known their views in a plenary.

Saturday, Oct 16
* Factions continue to comment on Dr Habibie’s speech at plenary.
* A separate plenary to hear views on the MPR working committees.

Sunday, Oct 17
* Setting up MPR commissions to prepare state guidelines for next 5 years.
* Nomination of commission leaders.

Monday, Oct 18
* Plenary debate on Dr Habibie’s speech. The President will be present to take question.
* 700 members will either reach a consensus or vote on whether to accept speech.
* MPR commission leaders prepare reports.

Tuesday, Oct 19
* Finalising state guidelines.

Wednesday 20
* Election of President.

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