Indonesian President Habibie names general as running mate
October 13, 1999
JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) -- Floundering Indonesian President B.J. Habibie has named armed forces commander General Wiranto as his running mate in next week's presidential elections.
The move could help him secure support from the military, which controls 38 seats in the country's assembly.
Habibie won his party's reluctant nomination earlier in the day. However, the former ruling Golkar party, struggling to find a place for itself in a country lurching towards democracy, gave itself the option of picking Habibie's rivals if its support for the president turned into a lost cause.
"The meeting recommends that the central executive board directs all of Golkar's MPR members to exercise its utmost efforts to fight for Habibie," Golkar party leader Akbar Tandjung told a news conference in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The top legislature, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), is due to choose the next president next Wednesday.
Habibie, in power for 16 months after taking over from his disgraced mentor Suharto, has ruled over one of the most turbulent periods in Indonesia's 50 years of independence.
But he has won mostly public contempt for his efforts, his image further tarnished in recent months by a bank scandal involving close aides and the national shame over the carnage in East Timor for which many hold him responsible.
The country's financial markets immediately took fright, as they did when Suharto chose him as his vice president early last year.
Then it was largely because he was seen as so much at odds with the powerful military.
Still unpopular with the military, many fear Habibie's reelection will trigger another burst of the mass unrest that has plagued the country over the past two years in the midst of its worst political and economic strife for 30 years.
The rupiah headed down towards 8,000 to the dollar for the first time in almost two weeks, while share prices dropped more than two percent in early trade.
"It seems to be weird seeing Golkar endorsing Habibie shortly before his accountability speech on Thursday which according to many people would be rejected," one share analyst said.
Habibie's next hurdle towards reelection will be an account to the assembly on Thursday of his brief rule.
There is speculation that the 700-member assembly may reject his account and in the process dash his hopes of staying in power.
The assembly on October 20 will choose the next president, the first time in Indonesian history the job has been contested, after decades of autocratic rulers.
Tandjung laid open the possibility his party might still drop Habibie and opt for one of his rivals from outside the party.
That would please members of the reform wing of Golkar, the parliamentary rubber stamp during the 32-year autocratic rule of Suharto, who have been trying to drop Habibie. Some analysts say that group includes Tandjung himself.
"There are several alternatives. If it is not possible to fight for our candidate, we shall look for an alternative candidate," party leader Akbar Tandjung told reporters shortly before a party meeting with Habibie.
"(One) alternative is to give support to the existing candidates," he added.
Habibie's main rivals for the presidency are popular opposition figurehead Megawati Sukarnoputri and charismatic Moslem leader Abdurrahman Wahid.
Megawati's party won the most seats in June's parliamentary election but still needs to win over members of other parties and the military if she is to be assured of winning.
Wahid, in poor health, has strong support from the huge Moslem community but there are doubts over whether he is seriously seeking the post and some analysts argue he has thrown his hat into the ring deliberately to split support for Habibie.
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