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Controversial minister breaks with Golkar

Agence France Presse - January 13, 1999

Jakarta – A controversial Indonesian minister has broken ranks with the ruling Golkar party ahead of general elections in June, raising speculation he has his own political ambitions, sources and reports said Wednesday.

Adi Sasono, minister of cooperatives and small and medium sized enterprises, told newspapers and television he had declared himself a "non-active member" of Golkar after refusing to campaign for the party in the June polls.

Sasono, best known for his advocacy of a "people's economy" to replace the conglomerate-driven years of the Suharto regime, also denied he was forming a new political party to branch out of his own.

"Where is the logic? I don't even campaign, how am I going to build a party. So the request to be a non-active member (from Golkar) is really because I have to concentrate in the people's interests," Sasono was quoted by the Media Indonesia daily as saying.

Sasono claimed Suharto's successor, President B.J. Habibie, understood his decision to be a non-active member of the party and concentrate on his ministerial duties.

But the Panji weekly magazine said Sasono was believed to have sponsored the creation of the new People's Sovereignty Party (PDR) which aimed at targetting supporters from the underprivileged he champions.

Nasir Tamara, a member of the Indonesian Moslem Scholars Association (ICMI) which Sasono used to chair, viewed Sasono's resignation as an active Golkar member as a "preparatory step" for him to enter a political party.

Nasir said Sasono was testing the political waters by circulating reports of a party under his leadership, and was awaiting the public's response. "In Indonesian political culture, as in every political culture, anyone who wants to create a political party should test the waters," Nasir added.

He said Sasono's decision to distance himself from Golkar was part of an effort "to keep his hands free so he could do whatever he wants."

"But if Adi Sasono decides to run, I find him to be a more than qualified person as a political leader," Nasir said, adding he believed the new party would easily garner at least 15 percent of the votes in the next election in June.

"He would get the support of people who are dissatisfied with the Moslem and other nationalist parties."

Following the resignation of former president Suharto in May, 1998, Habibie lifted a Suharto-era ban on political parties other than three officially recognisd by the administration, leading to a rush to form new parties.

But the some 120 parties which have mushroomed since then are now awaiting legalization and rulings by parliament on requirements for them to qualify to run in the polls.