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Sri Bintang plans to contest elections

Reuters - August 6, 1998

Melbourne – Former Indonesian political prisoner and democracy advocate Sri Bintang Pamungkas said on Thursday his party would contest general elections expected next year, questioning whether new President B.J. Habibie could break the legacy of the former Suharto regime. Sri Bintang said his United Democratic Party of Indonesia would push its platform of giving more power to the provinces, allowing troubled East Timor to vote on self-determination, and removing the military from politics. "We have serious doubts that the promise for political reform will be realised by Mr. Habibie," he told a seminar sponsored by the Australia-Indonesia Legal Defense Foundation.

But he urged international support for Habibies reform efforts and called on his countrys creditors to ease loan terms to help Indonesia through its crippling recession. "Indonesia should expect some leniency from donor countries," he said, calling for easier interest terms and some delayed repayments.

Sri Bintang, jailed last year by then president Suharto on charges of defaming him during a speech in Germany, was one of the first political prisoners released after Suharto resigned and Habibie took office last May. He also called for the president to be elected directly rather than by parliament.

But he added that Indonesias numerous opposition groups might have to link up to challenge the government successfully in an election. "It depends. We make some association among new parties with the same platform, saying, ok, we have to be in association to defend ourselves from [the ruling] Golkar [party] and the old regime coming back," Sri Bintang said.

[On August 2, Dow Jones Newswires reported that Sri Bintang as warning that despite the risk of a crackdown, frustration, anger and hunger would again drive people to protest. "If the government and the cabinet cannot solve the critical problem of the economy, especially the supply of basic needs and medicine, then probably people will be forced to go on the streets again", he said, adding that he doubted whether the government could solve those problems and that Habibie was out of touch with the grass roots - James Balowski.]