Army on alert for Suharto's re-election

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Suharto will be re-elected today as Indonesia's unchallenged leader for a seventh consecutive term, against a backdrop of student protests and economic confusion.

There were protests in at least three cities in the central island of Java yesterday, although those in the capital, Jakarta, ended peacefully and were confined to the university campus.

The stand-off between the government and the International Monetary Fund over the IMF's proposed rescue package for Indonesia's economy generated another choppy day on the currency exchanges. However, the Indonesian rupiah strengthened by the end of trading despite an earlier drop.

Hundreds of students at the University of Indonesia and at the Catholic Atmajaya University in Jakarta protested against Suharto's imminent re- election. Thousands of police and army reinforcements have been brought in to patrol the centre of Jakarta, and in the city of Yogyakarta in Java, six students were reported to have been arrested on Sunday after leading a street demonstration. In an interview with an Indonesian magazine, the chief of the armed forces warned that uncontrolled protests could lead to the collapse of the country.

"What is clear [is that] I do not want this nation to break up because of the acts of irresponsible people," said General Wiranto. "If it is allowed to go in the direction they want, the situation will become very dangerous."

The rupiah closed in Jakarta at 10,800/11,100 to the US dollar, after losing 11 per cent of its value in the morning. The financial turmoil followed suggestions by President Suharto that his government may abandon the IMF's $43bn (pounds 27bn) rescue programme for Indonesia. The president is angry over the IMF's decision to delay next week's instalment of $3bn. Indonesia's foreign minster, Ali Alatas, later denied that the government intended to abandon the plan, but another senior politician was quoted in the Indonesian Observer as warning that any IMF attempts to "humiliate" the country will be rejected.

This morning's expected announcement by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPA) of the re-election of President Suharto follows 10 days of ritualistic deliberations from which dissent was scrupulously filtered out.

Of the 1,000 assembly members, 400 are appointed directly by President Suharto. Most of the remaining 600 are members of his Golkar Party. Even members of Indonesia's so-called opposition must be approved by the government, which has used its powers to exclude anyone who might offer a challenge to the president. Suharto, together with his chosen vice-president, the former technology minister, B J Habibie, are the only candidates. To eliminate any possibility of dissent, the ruling party has warned members of the assembly that "interruptions" to the re-election ceremony will not be tolerated.

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