S N Vasuki – A senior official of Indonesia's Armed Forces (Abri) has moved swiftly to end a raging internal debate on whether the army should now announce its preferred candidates for the presidential and vice-presidential positions in the March 1998 elections.
Armed forces socio-political affairs chief Lieut-Gen Syarwan Hamid yesterday clarified that Abri had not yet recommended any names. "Abri's stance on presidential and vice-presidential candidates will be stated only by Armed Forces Chief Gen Feisal Tanjung and me," he said. "Any other source should be ignored."
Political analysts said that the debate surfaces at a time when many Indonesians are questioning whether the armed forces should retain their unique dual function role of maintaining domestic stability and protecting the country from external threats.
The Abri debate was obviously triggered by the coming parliamentary elections on May 29. Early this week Suparman Achmad, chairman of Abri's faction in the lower house, said that the armed forces already had identified several potential vice-presidential candidates. "It would not be right if Abri did not have a candidate," Mr Suparman said. "Abri members are also citizens."
Defence Minister Edi Sudradjat, a former senior Abri officer himself, joined the debate by adding that Abri should have announced a candidate for the vice-presidency. "Abri should have prepared its candidate but now is not the time to announce it. The candidate will be announced at the MPR general assembly." Mr Edi did not rule out the possibility that there may well be more than one candidate for the vice-presidency in 1998.
The armed forces which has 100 nominated seats in the parliament (which will be reduced to 75 after the next election) traditionally announces its preference on who should be elected president and vice-president just before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) meets in March every five years. As Abri is widely expected to endorse President Suharto's candidature for a seventh term in March 1998, analysts said that attention has now focused on who he will be nominated as vice-president.
Speculation in Jakarta centres around three potential candidates: State Minister for Research & Technology B J Habibie, Planning Minister Ginanjar Kartasasmita, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lieut-Gen Hartono and State Secretary Murdiono.
Though analysts feel Mr Habibie is a front-runner, it is not clear at this stage whether there is broad consensus within Abri and government on who should be nominated for vice-president. The current incumbent, Try Sutrisno, is a former general but is widely expected to stand down after his term expires in March 1998.