An unlikely reformer is remaking Indonesia
In election rules and possible autonomy for East Timor, Habibie movesrather boldly.
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He then allowed reform-minded aides to draft election laws that would have introduced a district voting system, not unlike that in the US, to replace a proportional election in which only three parties, all vetted by Suharto, were allowed to take part. Parliament yesterday opted for a mix of the two because members feared they weren't ready to stand as single candidates in 324 districts, spread over hundreds of islands.Skip to next paragraph
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"The government proposal was actually more democratic," Anwar says. "But it was probably too idealistic.... The only party that happens to be ready for it happens to be Golkar [the dominant government party], which of course made the idea very unpopular."
In the new system, parties will get seats in parliament according to the number of votes they get. But to run in a district they will have to field local candidates. Candidates with the most votes get priority in the allotment of seats.
The 500 members of parliament, together with 135 delegates elected by regional senates and 65 representatives of social groups appointed by parliament, are scheduled to elect a new president in October or early November.
Umar Juoro, another Habibie adviser, believes no one party will dominate, forcing new legislators to pick a compromise president. That may well be Habibie. "They are not anti-Habibie," Mr. Juoro says. "The person who can get support from the most parties will become president."
That helps explain why Habibie agreed to early elections and appears committed to a democratic vote. "Habibie's survival depends very much on how the elections are conducted," says Emil Salim, former government minister. "If they are not fair, he is finished. I think he knows that."
Mulyana Kusumah, leader of an election watchdog, said the new laws still favor Golkar. Smaller parties will have to spread themselves thin to avoid losing small constituencies in various districts. But he and many others say they could live with the compromise, which came just in time to meet a deadline the government had set.
Progress, however flawed
"Whatever its shortcomings, it is a step forward," says Subagio Anam, a senior member of Megawati Sukarnoputri's opposition Democratic Party. "If there were no elections there would be civil war."
Civil war, or at least social upheaval, remains a possibility. More than 100 parties want to run in elections on widely different political and religious agendas. Even if, as expected, only 10 to 15 meet the requirements for registration, they will include competing Muslim parties, the widely resented Golkar party, and Ms. Megawati's nationalist party. Indonesia has been rattled by riots between Christians and Muslims in recent weeks, and election campaigns tended to be violent even when only three parties were allowed to take part.
Reducing military's role
Muslim leaders such as Abdurrahman Wahid have blamed Suharto followers for organizing riots. He met the former president earlier this week, urging him to rein in his men and allow peaceful elections.
The military has been accused of provoking unrest as well, either out of loyalty to Suharto or out of sympathy with Islamic generals who want to undermine chief commander General Wiranto, a moderate on good terms with both opposition leaders and Habibie. Just as worrying, their foot soldiers have proven too demoralized to stop looting and street brawls.
Parliament reduced the number of guaranteed military seats in the assembly from 75 to 38, reflecting the steady loss of influence of the generals who backed Suharto's 32-year reign.
Anwar acknowledged the risk that Habibie may unleash more than he intended with his reforms, much as Gorbachev thought he was saving communism and the Soviet Union. "We hope we find the balance," she says. "We just hope there is greater political maturity here than in the Soviet Union. Habibie is not too much out of step with what society is thinking.
"In terms of reform-mindedness, yes, to that extent Habibie can be like a Gorbachev, somebody who leads his country to democracy," adds Anwar. "But Indonesia does not take kindly to being compared to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev broke up his country. I don't think Habibie wants to break up the country."