Susan Sim, Jakarta – President Suharto, offering to resign if it was the will of the people, has vowed to "clobber" anyone who tries to force him out of office by unconstitutional means.
"If the people want Pak Harto to step down, thank you, I shall receive it well. For the sake of the people and our Constitution, I will accept the decision," local papers yesterday quoted him as saying.
But, he warned, if they tried to seize power unlawfully, he would, as he had vowed to previously, "clobber them because they are violating the Constitution".
The Kompas daily reported that he laughed as he made the off-the-cuff remarks at a meeting with Muslim pilgrims preparing for the Haj on Friday. "If the House of Representatives indeed considers that I am incompetent, yes, please 'withdraw' me, namely through an extraordinary session of the People's Consultative Assembly," he said.
"I have no objections to 'stepping down'. I shall not retain the function which I have executed all this time. Provided that all is done in a constitutional way."
And repeating the word gebuk, the Indonesian word for clobber, which he first used in 1989 during a national debate on national succession, the 75-year-old leader added: "If I hear anyone is violating the law, I will clobber them really hard. I won't hesitate to take action against them."
He did not say who he thought might try to unseat him. But on Friday, he warned, as he has in recent weeks as unrest rocked Java and West Kalimantan, that certain groups who refused to accept the Constitution and Pancasila state ideology were trying to sow instability.
In 1989, when he first threatened to gebuk anyone who tried to seize power by force, analysts thought he was issuing a blunt warning to the army, whose parliamentary representatives had opposed his nominee for the vice-presidency in March 1988.
His comments now could ignite speculation as to his plans for his succession. In recent weeks, Jakarta has been abuzz with talk that he was very angry with and saddened by recent criticisms of his New Order government.
He was also said to be worried that recent riots would undermine the development path he had launched.
Analysts blamed widening social and economic gaps for the riots, which have claimed hundreds of lives in the last few months.
Urging everyone to vote in the coming May general election, Mr Suharto said it was their chance to influence national policies.
They would have only themselves to blame if they did not vote, he added, commenting indirectly on a recent call by the Catholic Church to followers to heed their conscience and not vote if they did not feel that their aspirations would be met.
There is persistent talk that Mr Suharto, who has ruled for 30 years and has not said if he would run for a seventh term, will in fact do so next March.