Two key factions deal blow to Habibie

PDI-P and PKB, and two smaller factions in the MPR, reject the President’s accountability speech, reducing his chances at another term.

PRESIDENT B.J. Habibie’s chances at another term in office appeared to dim yesterday with two key factions in the national assembly (MPR) rejecting outright his accountability speech and others expressing reservations about his rule.

Against the backdrop of street demonstrations calling for the MPR to reject him, a potentially decisive blow to the incumbent’s plan to remain in office was delivered during the two-day plenary MPR session where representatives from 11 factions signalled tentatively where they stood ahead of the presidential vote on Wednesday.

Four factions – the Indonesian Democratic Party- Perjuangan (PDI-P), Nation Awakening Party (PKB), Justice and Unity Party, and the Love the Nation Democratic Party-criticised the President for skirting controversial issues and raised doubts about his accomplishments during his 17 months in office.

The harshest criticism came from the two factions with their own presidential candidates and among the biggest blocs in the 700-member assembly – the PDI-P and PKB.

PKB spokesman Muhaimin Iskandar, for example, said there was little economic achievement during Dr Habibie’s 512 days as president because of the absence of local and foreign confidence in the economy.

PDI-P’s Zulfan Lindan took the same tact and asked repeatedly whether the Habibie administration ever had an economic policy.

Representatives from seven other factions – in particular Golkar, the defence forces (TNI), United Development Party (PPP) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB)- remained vague in their conclusions. Most critical among this group was Golkar, which has hinted it could still ditch Dr Habibie as its presidential candidate if the MPR reaction was too damning.

Legislator Budi Santoso, speaking on behalf of Golkar, touched on several thorny issues that have hung over the President for the past year.

While praising the efforts to resuscitate the economy, Mr Budi noted there were glaring faults and pointed to unresolved cases of corruption, the cancelled probe into Mr Suharto and the Bank Bali loan scandal.

Golkar sources disclosed yesterday that they had in fact rejected the speech in substance. But as a senior legislator put it: “We cannot come out openly and reject it because it could split the party. The best option is to diplomatically take the middle ground for now.

Public hostility to the speech has also increased horse-trading behind the scenes between members in Golkar opposed to Dr Habibie and the PDI-P of Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Sources said talks are scheduled today and will be attended by several intelligence officers, at the bidding of defence forces chief General Wiranto, to outline any power sharing arrangement in greater detail.

Habibie loyalists appeared unfazed by the negative reaction to the President’s speech to the MPR.

They are quietly confident he still has the numbers to beat his rivals even as he faced fresh controversy yesterday that some of the statistics he cited were outdated figures overlooked by his speech writers. Some factions have called for a public apology.

Dr Habibie will meet the MPR members in a plenary session today to respond to points that have been made. If there is still no consensus, they are likely to vote on the matter tomorrow.

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