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Habibie critics apply pressure

Straits Times - February 25, 1999

Derwin Pereira, Jakarta – Pressure is mounting on President B.J. Habibie to clarify the substance of an alleged telephone conversation with his Attorney-General over investigations into former leader Suharto's wealth, as a senior opposition figure called for a parliamentary probe which could lead to impeachment proceedings.

As controversy raged over the conversation's authenticity, analysts said that Dr Habibie's continued public vitriol over the practice of phone tapping and the admission of a senior adviser that the phone call may be real offered fodder for the President's critics now crying for blood.

Mr Zarkasih Nur of the Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) was the first to fire the opening salvo by calling on Dr Habibie to account for his actions.

The country's leading daily Kompas yesterday quoted him as saying that Parliament had the right to ask the President to explain why he had not adhered fully to a decree by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to investigate Mr Suharto. "What is the point of having such laws if we do not use them?" he said.

Others joined the fray but they pushed an even harder line by calling for impeachment proceedings.

Former Golkar legislator Sutradara Ginting said Parliament could call on the MPR to hold a special session to impeach the President if it found his explanation unacceptable.

Prominent activist Hendardi of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association went further by calling on the MPR to establish a special commission to investigate Dr Habibie's alleged abuse of power.

He was quoted in local papers yesterday as saying: "The investigation must be conducted fairly and in an open manner under the supervision of an independent body like the United Nations. If later proven guilty, President Habibie must face dismissal."

But the armed forces faction in Parliament downplayed such suggestions. Its leader, Lieutenant-General Hari Sabarno, said Dr Habibie could be impeached only if his policies were flawed and against national interests.

The furore over the alleged taped conversation broke out last week after the Panji Masyarakat weekly magazine ran a cover story carrying a transcript of a telephone conversation between Dr Habibie and Attorney-General Andi Ghalib.

The transcript indicated that the two were trying to make a probe into the alleged abuse of power by Mr Suharto easier for the ousted leader. In the same vein, they talked of possible legal action against three businessmen critical of the government.

The chairman of the Supreme Advisory Council and presidential adviser, Mr Baramuli, threw some light on the matter by confirming that a conversation did take place although he did not elaborate on its substance.

He did indicate, however, that military intelligence personnel might have been involved.

The military-link appeared to be gaining ground among political observers who say the "phone leak" could have been linked to the dismissal of former intelligence chief of the A-G's office Maj-Gen Syamsu Djalal.

[On February 27, the Straits Times said that in a tacit acknowledgement that it was his voice, Habibie told a senior aide that his comments were merely an expression of concern for Suharto's health. Dewi Fortuna Anwar told the Indonesian Observer "I've checked with Mr President himself. All he meant was that the interrogation should not take more than three hours because the person being questioned is an old man. What if he suddenly fainted, or even worse ... had a heart attack or something? It was just a consideration of his health. Nothing more than that." Anwar also said that the implication that there was a conspiracy to whitewash an official corruption probe into Suharto was "totally unreasonable". On January 25, the state news agency Antara, quoted presidential advisor, A.A. Baramuli, as saying "He (Ghalib) did not deny his conversation with the president. What he said was the conversation was not exactly like that, he said that he did not remember all (of the conversation) as (they both talked about many things)" - James Balowski.]