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Suharto said ready to dump his ruling party leader

American Reporter - July 11, 1997

Andreas Harsono, Jakarta – Rumors have started to circulate in Jakarta that President Suharto is hinting that Harmoko – like many Indonesians, he uses just ne name – the chairman of the Suharto's ruling party, Golkar, will not become the speaker of the Indonesian parliament when it convenes to elect a new president next year.

Foreign diplomats and observers saY the political career of the stone-faced Harmoko, a former information minister and once one of Suharto's closest aides, stumbled on several issues – including his exaggerated display of triumph soon after Golkar had gained more than 74 percent of the votes in the May 29 general election, as well as in his plan to set up a shadow cabinet.

They said such moves had apparently angered Suharto, who dislikes the idea of being dictated to even by a Golkar leader like Harmoko. "The cabinet lineup is the prerogative of the president. Harmoko has overstepped his limits," said one analyst.

In addition to the rumors, Gen. Feisal Tanjung, the commander of the powerful Armed Forces (Abri), unexpectedly said last week that the military is to assign Lt. Gen. Syarwan Hamid, the second-in-command of the socio-political role of the military, to become a member of parliament.

That soon raised more speculations that Hamid is to compete with Harmoko to head the parliament. Some even said that Suharto had probably made the request to have Hamid sitting in parliament himself, apparently to replace Harmoko, who has lost the president's favor.

It is widely believed here that Harmoko was demoted last month when Suharto unexpectedly installed former army chief Gen R. Hartono as the new information minister, putting Harmoko in the office of State Minister for Special Affairs, a new position without a clear assignment.

"It all depends on the President. If the President says he [Harmoko] goes, Harmoko will go," said political observer Frans Seda, an observation that Suharto, who has been ruling Indonesia since 1966, has always had the final say on almost every political decision here.

Hamid, a hardliner who last year spearheaded the removal of opposition figure Megawati Sukarnoputri from her position as the chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party, is the only three-star general to have a seat in the lower house. He topped the list of 75 high-ranking officers who will occupy parliamentary seats reserved for Armed Forces members, who have no voting rights.

The general, however, dismissed speculation that he would compete with Harmoko. "I don't think I'm a strong candidate, nor do I feel I'm a weak one. Nobody will win or lose in this matter. And I remind you all that I do respect Harmoko," he said.

Under Indonesian law, the speaker of the House of Representatives, which makes the nation's laws, also functions as the speaker of the 5,000-member People's Consultative Assembly, which under the constitution holds the highest state power in Indonesia and has the rights to appoint a president. The House is the day-to-day parliament of Indonesia. Harmoko, an unpopular figure among journalists here after he closed down three popular newsweeklies in 1994, still has some officials among supporters of his nomination for the speakership.

State Secretary Moerdiono, another close aide to Suharto, surprised many on Wednesday when he said that logically, Harmoko deserves the parliament's top job because Harmoko is chairman of the party which won the election.

"Logically, his supporters, who will rule the roost in the House, will nominate him for the position." Moerdiono confirmed that Harmoko would enter the parliament on Oct. 1, when he ends his short tenure as the state minister of special assignments.