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Take my age into account, says Suharto

South China Morning Post - April 3, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – Indonesia's leader for 30 years, President Suharto, has sounded a note of caution about his age, while his daughter shapes up as a strong candidate for vice-president.

"Please take my age into account because I will be 77 next year," Mr Suharto told a group of youth activists.

He said he was concerned about a perception overseas the elections were orchestrated to maintain the status quo and claimed he wanted to leave the presidential race open for other contestants.

"There are many others who want to become president and we should also consider this," Mr Suharto reportedly said.

The 1,000-member People's Consultative Assembly will meet in March 1998 to elect a new president and vice-president. Few expect any upsets and that Mr Suharto will be re-elected to a seventh term.

His doctors have given him a clean bill of health and palace insiders say he is keen to have another five-year term.

The regime has eliminated all possible presidential challengers in the past year.

The Government and military engineered the toppling of Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the first president Sukarno, as leader of the Indonesian Democracy Party at a congress last June.

Ms Megawati was a popular leader and was seen as a potential presidential candidate.

Indonesian analysts said she would have been the first real challenger to Mr Suharto since he came to power in 1968.

Last month, authorities arrested Sri Bintang Pamungkas, the only figure to publicly nominate for the presidency. He is now facing subversion charges and a possible death sentence for defaming Mr Suharto in greeting cards.

The outspoken former parliamentarian urged a boycott of the May general elections and rejection of Mr Suharto.

Interest has shifted to the vice-presidential slot. The name of Mr Suharto's eldest daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana is racing up the list of rumoured candidates. Ms Rukmana, Golkar's deputy chairman, received an image boost at the weekend, appearing with influential Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid at a rally in Central Java.

Golkar officials said they would consider nominating her for vice-president, currently held by former general Try Sutrisno.

"We'll consider her as we will with other names. It could be Tutut or other candidates," Golkar secretary-general Ary Mardjono said.

A political analyst from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Kristiadi, recently tipped Ms Rukmana, known as Mbak Tutut, as a favourite for the deputy position. Her profile has increased since her mother Ibu Tien Suharto died last April.

The Government yesterday reminded Indonesia's three political parties they were barred from accepting campaign donations from overseas.