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Suharto To Stand for Re-election

March 8, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ International bankers are worried, but Indonesia’s legislators hold no doubts: 76-year-old President Suharto is the best man to lead the world’s fourth-most populous nation into the 21st century.

Respecting ritual rather than playing politics, delegations from all five factions in a 1,000-member assembly formally asked Suharto Sunday to stand for election next week for a seventh five-year term.

Asia’s longest-serving leader said yes to each group during a series of reverential meetings at his suburban Jakarta home, just two days after new doubts were raised about the progress of an International Monetary Fund bailout for Indonesia’s battered economy.

``I am ready to accept this nomination and with all my ability I will lead the nation to overcome this crisis,″ one faction leader quoted Suharto as saying.

Despite the deep economic crisis and outbreaks of civil unrest, Suharto has no challengers in Tuesday’s voting by the partly elected, partly appointed body, which acts a presidential electoral college.

Assembly delegates also have chosen to overlook his age and earlier concerns about his health.

Infused with Suharto family members and friends, as well as serving and retired military officers, the assembly meets every five years under a tightly controlled political system created by Suharto himself.

The retired five-star army general has governed since 1966 and Tuesday’s inevitable election victory will give him a seventh consecutive term.

The factions, which represent three officially recognized political parties as well as the military and regional interests, are also poised to grant Suharto new wide-ranging emergency powers to deal with the the economic mess.

Suharto took control over Indonesia during a period of political upheaval in the 1960s and used emergency powers to outlaw Indonesia’s communist party, which he accused of staging an abortive coup. He last had the special authority in 1988.

Suharto’s complete dominance of Indonesian politics has remained intact despite the worst economic crisis in more than three decades.

``He is a great leader who has successfully united this big country,″ Amir Santoso, a professor at the University of Indonesia, was quoted as saying by Sunday’s Jakarta Post.

A 70 percent plunge in the value of the rupiah has dramatically forced up inflation and unemployment.

Riots over rising prices shook more than 20 cities last month and dozens of student protests have called loudly for economic and political reform, including Suharto’s resignation.

More troubling though is a decision by the IMF last Friday to delay a scheduled second installment of a dlrs 43 billion economic bailout for Indonesia.

The tranche of dlrs 3 billion, which had been due this month, won’t be paid until at least April amid fears that Indonesia is not vigorously implementing reforms agreed to under the rescue plan struck in January.

The IMF, the United States and other industrialized countries have repeatedly urged Suharto to carry through reforms that end monopolies and cartels, fix the ailing banking system, abolish subsidies and wind down costly projects.

The IMF is expected to wait until Suharto selects a new Cabinet next month before releasing any more funds to Indonesia.

It has also cautioned Suharto not to proceed with a plan to peg the rupiah to the U.S. dollar through a currency board, saying the move could have disastrous economic effects.

Financial markets are unsure about Suharto’s intentions.

Last week, Suharto said that while he was committed to carrying out IMF reforms, they had not delivered economic benefits and more needed to be done.

At the end of one meeting on Sunday, one faction leader from the minority Muslim-oriented United Development Party quoted Suharto as saying the IMF rescue deal ``did not suit the spirit″ of Indonesia’s constitution, which called for a cooperative rather than liberal economy.

Suharto did not talk to reporters, and presidential officials were not available for comment.

All five factions within the People’s Consultative Assembly nominated Suharto as their one and only choice for the presidency weeks ago.

During his 32 years in power, he has never faced an opposing candidate in a presidential election.

The few who have put their names forward as candidates have been ignored by assembly delegates.

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno and a high profile opposition figure, and Amien Rais, the leader of a 28 million-member Islamic group, have both been shut out of the race.

They have called for democratic reform and have alleged that corruption, collusion and nepotism within Suharto’s government have led to Indonesia’s dire economic plight.