Washington Times, May 19, 1998

JAKARTA, Indonesia – The influential speaker of parliament yesterday urged President Suharto to step down for the good of the nation, prompting cheers in the streets as citizens welcomed the crumbling of support for the 76-year-old ruler.

Suharto appeared on television today to speak to the nation, but the address was delayed while he discussed developments with community leaders summoned to his palace. No new time was set.

Pressed by thousands of students and other demonstrators, the 500 members of parliament were to decide today whether to back their leadership in demanding that Suharto peacefully end 32 years of power.

Yesterday, parliament Speaker Harmoko, No. 3 in the ruling structure and an old friend of Suharto’s, called on the president to step down.

The head of the all-important military yesterday proposed instead that Suharto stay in office while a “Reformation Council” plots a path toward reform. The complex faceoff between civilian and military leaders raised the prospect of a long and dangerous transitional period.

Several Indonesian cities, including the capital, have been rocked by violent rioting, arson and looting. Some 500 people died in the Jakarta area last week, most of them trapped in burning shopping centers.

The military commander in the province of Central Java has issued orders for rioters to be shot on the spot, a report said today.

“In facing rioters, we should not use dialogue, but they should be fought,” Maj. Gen. Tyasno Sudarto was quoted as saying by the state- run Antara news agency.

In London, President Clinton urged the military to exercise restraint.

“What we’re looking for now and what we’re going to be working for is the restoration of order without violence and the genuine opening of a political dialogue that givesall parties a substantial feeling they’re part of it,” Mr. Clinton told reporters before the latest developments.

The risks of a prolonged confrontation were driven home when authorities conducted mass funerals yesterday for the charred remains of hundreds of unidentified victims of last week’s violence.

“We urge the president in his wisdom to resign for the sake of national unity,” said parliamentary speaker Harmoko, a longtime Suharto cheerleader. He told reporters he would discuss the matter with the leaders of key parliamentary factions today and take their decision to Suharto.

The streets of Jakarta broke out with singing, chanting and applause from people like 30-year-old Kiswanto, one of several taxi drivers who smiled broadly at news of the remarks.

“The people no longer trust {Suharto},” said the taxi driver, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. “It’s time for him to step down.”

But Gen. Wiranto, who also serves as defense minister, went on television shortly afterward, insisting that Harmoko’s comment reflected only his personal opinion.

The general said a Reformation Council made up of government officials and members of the opposition should work instead toward reform.

Under the resignation plan sketched out by a top palace source, Vice President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie would take over as interim president, and a transitional Cabinet would be formed that represents a cross section of the nation. Suharto would remain in the country as an elder statesman.

Other Cabinet sources said that they expected some of the vast business holdings controlled by Suharto’s sons and daughters to be nationalized but that there would be no move to punish the president or his family.

Earlier, officials in Suharto’s inner circle told The Washington Times that the president had already decided to resign and would make the announcement in a nationwide address today.

Emboldened opposition leaders called for 1 million Indonesians to march on parliament tomorrow to demand the president’s resignation.

“The people have lost confidence in him, and they have one single demand, that he step down,” said Amien Rais, who has emerged as a major opposition leader.

Also yesterday, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank postponed loans worth more than $2 billion to Indonesia, citing the violence that claimed more than 500 lives last week. The World Bank said its loans would be reviewed when “the situation in Jakarta is clearer.”


Photo, Thousands of college students rally against beleaguered President Suharto in front of Parliament in Jakarta, Indonesia, yesterday., By AP


Copyright Washington Times Library May 19, 1998

By Lawrence Pintak

Lawrence Pintak is an award-winning journalist and scholar. He is a former CBS News Middle East correspondent and was founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University (2009-2016). He was named a Fellow of the Society by the Society of Professional Journalists in 2017 for "outstanding service to the profession of journalism" around the world. Pintak is a contributor to ForeignPolicy.com, The Daily Beast, and other outlets. Read his articles at pintak.com. His books include Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & The War of Ideas; Islam for Journalists (co-editor); The New Arab Journalist; and Seeds of Hate: How America’s Flawed Middle East Policy Ignited the Jihad. He holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. Follow him on Twitter @LPintak.

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