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Threat to unseat Suharto unlikely to be carried out

South China Morning Post - March 4, 1997

Joe Leahy, Jakarta – The Islamic Development Party is unlikely to carry out its threat to nominate one of its own members for the presidency, analysts say.

This is despite its record as the only party to run an independent candidate for the vice-presidency during the Suharto era.

The head of the constitutional law faculty at the University of Indonesia, Yusril Izha Mahendra, said the country's three officially recognised political parties had the right to nominate their own candidates for the head of state. But, in practice, they always supported the re-appointment of Mr Suharto.

Mr Mahendra said the party's latest announcement was most likely a bluff to boost support ahead of the May 29 general election.

After that, the party would back down and support Mr Suharto's re-election for the presidency in 1998, he said.

The United Development Party had its fingers burnt once before. In 1988, the then chairman of the United Development Party, Jailani Naro, nominated himself to stand for the vice-presidency.

Mr Naro did not even make it into the race. The United Development Party had to withdraw him before the presidential election. Mr Suharto's candidate, Lieutenant-General Sudharmono, was elected unopposed.

The only other person to contest the presidency is Sri Bintang Pamungkas. He was thrown out of Parliament and the United Development Party in 1995 for allegedly insulting the President. It got him 34 months in jail.

Defiant Mr Pamungkas and lawyer Julius Usman launched a joint presidential campaign last October, but as neither is an MP, they will not be able to formally stand.

Arbi Sanit, a political analyst at the University of Indonesia, said the United Development Party's central board would again back Mr Suharto when it came to the crunch.