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Rais calls on parties to unite

Agence France Presse - February 18, 1999

Jakarta – Opposition presidential hopeful Amien Rais has called on several Indonesian parties, mostly Moslem, to unite to prevent the return of current President Habibie to power later this year, newspapers reported Thursday.

Rais, in a meeting of ten newly established parties here late Wednesday, urged them to consider a coalition, which he said was needed to defeat the remnants of fallen president Suharto's government in the polls scheduled for June 7, the Jakarta Post daily said.

"What should be understood is that we complement each other," Rais was quoted by Kompas daily as telling the meeting.

Rais, the leader of his National Mandate Party (PAN), predicted that without opposition unity, Suharto's handpicked successor President B.J. Habibie could become the country's third elected president.

The June 7 polls would result in a new People's Consultative Assembly, which would then choose a president on November 10. Votes from two thirds of the 700 MPs in the MPR are needed to select a new president.

"It is estimated that ... Habibie could gather 313 votes out of the 470 needed to become president," Rais was quoted as saying by the Media Indonesia daily.

In June political parties will compete for 462 lower house of parliament seats, with military appointees taking the other 38 seats. In the MPR they will join 200 appointees from the regions and provinces.

Rais charged that Habibie could win 238 votes easily from regional representatives and the military through "money politics and lobbying," the Post said.

After taking over the presidency the day Suharto stepped down May 21 last year, Habibie abolished the Suharto-era law restricting the number of political parties to the three. Since then more than 120 parties have sprung up.

The Golkar, with the assured votes of millions of public servants and their families as well as the military, repeatedly returned Suharto to power in successive elections since 1971.

Rais said a possible coalition between PAN and the popular Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDI Struggle) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the politician daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno would also be possible. But the two parties alone, he said, would be insufficient to prevent a Golkar comeback.

A further coalition with the Moslem United Development Party led by current Investment Minister Hamzah Haz, the National Awakening Party led by Moslem leader Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, and the Moslem Crescent Star Party led by Yusril Ihza Mahendra would be needed to offset the balance against the old government, he said.

Neither PAN nor PDI Struggle are Moslem parties, but PAN with Rais as a former head of the Moslem Muhammadiyah group garners heavy support from the majority Moslem Indonesians.