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No problems with Suharto's ability to lead: Assembly

Straits Times - March 4, 1997

Jakarta – The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) has never considered holding a special session to assess the capability of President Suharto, according to Deputy Speaker Ismail Hasan Metareum, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday.

Mr Ismail, also chairman of the United Development Party, said yesterday the assembly's leadership had not found any problems with President Suharto's capability to carry out his administrative and stately duties to justify bringing him before an extraordinary session.

"We all see that President Suharto is healthy and has succeeded in clearing many problems so far," Mr Ismail said after concluding a PPP leadership meeting.

"He has managed to carry out his job well. It's all up to him whether he agrees or not to run for another term of presidency," he.

The People's Consultative Assembly comprises 500 members of the House of Representatives and 500 representatives of various regions, professions and mass organisations.

They convene every five years to deliberate the guidelines of state policies and to elect the President and Vice-President.

Mr Ismail was commenting on a statement made on Friday by Mr Suharto that he was willing to step down only in a constitutional way.

He said he would "clobber" anybody who tried to use unconstitutional means to unseat him. Mr Suharto became acting President in 1967 and assumed full leadership the following year.

He was elected in 1972 by the People's Consultative Assembly which was established by the 1971 general election. He has been re-elected five times.

Mr Ismail said that the President's remarks should motivate the Consultative Assembly to act within the constitutional frame as well.

He added that he had no idea who Mr Suharto's warning was aimed at.

Mr Arbi Sanit, a lecturer at the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia's School of Social and Political Sciences, said the President's failure to identify any specific individuals or groups could mean that he was responding to escalating criticism of the government in general.

"He was warned about escalating criticism towards the government. In the past, critics came from the elite circle (of society), but now they include all elements," Mr Arbi said.

He said that criticism of the government ranged from the mediocrity of officials to the military's ineffectiveness in settling recent riots.

Muslim scholar Amien Rais, who has just stepped down from his leading position at the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), says he does not believe that Mr Suharto's warning was aimed at him.

Politician Sri Bintang Pamungkas believed Mr Suharto could have been referring to him and his Indonesian Democratic Union Party (PUDI), a certain military group, separatist groups or other mass organisations.

Mr Bintang said he wished to challenge the President for the presidential post in the next election.