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Indonesia To Hold Early Elections

May 25, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ Indonesia will hold parliamentary elections ``as soon as possible″ perhaps within six months or one year, the government’s principal spokesman said Monday.

State Secretary Akbar Tanjung said the elections would take place after the government pushes through new electoral laws and other reforms to liberalize Indonesia’s tightly controlled political system.

This is the first official indication that President B.J. Habibie would agree to early parliamentary elections. A new parliament can then join an assembly of government appointees and select a new president.

The announcement follows a call made Sunday by five government ministers who demanded early elections.

The new Cabinet ministers allied themselves with the top economic minister, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, who on Saturday called for a parliamentary election as soon as possible to elect a new president.

The transfer of power to Habibie, vice president under ousted President Suharto, calls for him to serve out Suharto’s term until 2003.

Lining up behind Ginandjar are the ministers of finance, industry and trade, national development planning, state enterprise empowerment and the Bank Indonesia governor.

Ginandjar said Saturday that some ministers never intended to serve out their five-year terms when they accepted their posts.

The call for new elections was the latest twist in the unfolding Indonesian drama.

Habibie took office Thursday after Suharto resigned, ending his 32-year rule following days of protests and violence. The army sent troops and tanks onto the streets of the capital after more than 500 people were killed and thousands of buildings burned or wrecked by rioters.

On Sunday, there were no reports of marches or demonstrations in Jakarta. And the military presence in the streets had shrunk considerably by early Monday, though troops were still stationed near the presidential palace and Suharto’s residence.

Early Monday, Justice Minister Muladi announced the government will release two prominent political prisoners.

Muchtar Pakpahan, who heads the country’s largest but unofficially recognized labor union, was jailed for allegedly fomenting a workers’ riot in 1996. Sri Bintang Pamungkas, a former legislator and university professor, was imprisoned for 34 months because he cracked an insulting joke about Suharto.

The two men were to be freed later Monday when Muladi visits Jakarta’s Cipinang Prison. Muladi said an unspecified number of other political prisoners would be released soon.

``We all have to be released now with no strings attached,″ the former legislator said Sunday, before his release was announced. Prison officials had allowed political prisoners in Jakarta’s main Cipinang penitentiary to talk to journalists.

Foreign diplomats said the release of any political prisoners would enhance Indonesia’s tarnished international image and help it garner more aid in overcoming its worst economic crisis in 30 years.

About 50 well-wishers had assembled outside of Jakarta’s main prison in anticipation of possible releases.

Under Suharto, Indonesia was berated for its poor human rights record. Criticism of the government was suppressed and insulting Suharto was regarded as a serious crime.

Human rights groups and the prisoners themselves urged Sunday that all 200 dissidents being held should be freed immediately, with an apology from the state.

Budiman Sudjatmiko, the head of an outlawed pro-democracy party, is also expected to be released soon.

Human rights groups have criticized the government’s decision not to release 13 elderly and sick men imprisoned after a bloody, communist coup attempt in 1965. Suharto, then an army general, crushed it and later took power from Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno.

East Timorese rebels, regarded by the government as violent criminals for waging a guerrilla war since Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 on Suharto’s orders, also are unlikely to be freed anytime soon.

``I don’t trust Habibie because he is part of Suharto’s era,″ said rebel leader Jose Xanana Gusmao, who was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to 20 years.

On Tuesday, a team from the International Monetary Fund will arrive to decide whether to resume its $43 billion bailout of the economy. The IMF last week suspended its bailout package because of the nation’s leadership crisis.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., will arrive in Jakarta for talks with government officials. He is chairman of the House committee on human rights.

Update hourly