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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

The Perils of Nonconformity

Upsetting Suharto is only asking for trouble


PRESIDENT SUHARTO IS NOT a man to be crossed, or to be taken for granted. Those who do so invariably put their careers at risk, as two prominent Indonesians recently learned the hard way.

One is Amien Rais, who resigned from a sub-committee of the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). The reason given for his departure was that he had too many other responsibilities -- he heads the progressive-minded Muslim group Muhammadiyah. But it didn't help that Amien, 52, has repeatedly attacked the authorities over everything from corruption to social injustice. Also down, though not out yet, is National Planning Min-ister Ginandjar Kartasas-mita, 56, once regarded as a potential compromise candidate for vice-president, a key stepping-stone for the No. 1 job. His crime: an excess of ambition.

Just over a year be-fore the next session of the People's Consul-tative Assembly, which selects the president and vice-president, Indone-sia's political climate is warming. Over the past seven months, Amien has been on the offensive at rallies and in the press. "The masses used to shout that they supported president Sukar-no without reservation," he says. "Our message is that we support the present government, but with reservations." Amien's latest peeve is the mining sector. He suggests that handing over control to foreigners -- as is the case with a major mining operation in Irian Jaya province -- is unconstitutional.

Mining has to do with Ginandjar's stumble too. He ran the relevant ministry until 1993, but he has been reluctant to let go. Ginandjar's confidants say his at-tempts to undermine the current minister, I.B. Sudjana, have angered Suharto. Rumors of funds being transferred from state mining companies to Sudjana's personal account have been traced to backers of Ginandjar. Top businessmen have now been advised to sever their links with him.

Though his vice-presidential hopes are dashed and his own ministerial post may be in jeopardy, Ginandjar is putting on a brave face. "I don't have problems with anybody," he says. He certainly has his ad-mirers. "Few people in government have the foresight that he has," says a veteran consultant in the National Planning Agency. "The long-term development plan he oversees has the potential to create a much better and fairer country for all Indonesians."

The reversal of fortunes for Amien and Ginandjar underscores the firm grip Suharto maintains in Indonesia. Amien's case is especially significant. ICMI, entrusted to Research and Technology Minister B.J. Habibie, was a major plank in Suharto's campaign to counter the power of the military. Many believe Amien's expulsion and the emergence of dissenting opinions within the body shows its usefulness to the president has passed.

The fallout may also reach Habibie, long a Suharto favorite and increasingly mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate. Recently, one of Habibie's pet projects, the pampered aircraft maker IPTN, was told to transfer up to 25% of its staff to other state enterprises, fueling speculation that he was out of favor. But his supporters remain optimistic. "In getting rid of Amien, Habibie has done what the president wanted," says one. "He's still on track to become veep." Provided he keeps the president happy.

-- By Keith Loveard / Jakarta


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