White-collar workers in Jakarta join anti-Habibie chorus
October 19, 1999
From staff and wire reports
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Two days before Indonesia's parliament elects a president, thousands of people took to the streets of Jakarta in rival demonstrations Monday to voice their views on incumbent President B.J. Habibie or opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.
In the business district of the city, Indonesia's capital, about 1,000 white-collar workers gathered to protest against Habibie.
"Enough is enough. He is too small for the job," said one man, as doctors, lawyers and brokers near the Jakarta stock exchange building sang, "Reject Habibie!"
In a separate demonstration, about 5,000 students demanding the election of Habibie's main rival, opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, filled a main traffic circle in Jakarta, protesting noisily.
Students call for Megawati presidency
"We will be here until Mega becomes president. If she isn't elected, we will start a revolution," said Zaenal Surrahman, one of many students wearing red, the color of Megawati's party. Other students waved red banners.
At a third site, 500 soldiers closed Jakarta's main road, pushing about 100 protesters near Atmajaya University down a side street. Last week, students threw Molotov cocktails in this same spot in a clash with police.
Habibie was appointed, not elected, when he took over 16 months ago. His authoritarian predecessor and mentor, President Suharto, was forced by protests and riots to quit after 32 years of iron-fisted rule.
Habibie introduced basic democratic changes, but his popularity has dipped because of his ties to Suharto and his handling of the East Timor crisis. He has also been criticized for a banking corruption scandal linked to his inner circle and Indonesia's huge economic problems.
Habibie: 'I don't want to say goodbye'
Despite widespread criticism of his government, Habibie said in a speech earlier Monday he is determined to win the election.
"I don't want to say goodbye. I don't want to bid farewell," Habibie said in an emotional speech to several hundred soldiers and police at a national monument in central Jakarta.
He also told students to stop staging violent, anti- government protests. Thousands of students have taken to the streets in a series of demonstrations over the past week, protesting everything from Habibie's presidential candidacy to Australia's role in the East Timor crisis.
On Wednesday, the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, will decide who will be Indonesia's leader for the next five years.
Habibie is one of three candidates for the presidency. In addition to Megawati -- daughter of Sukarno, the country's first president -- Habibie is expected to face one other candidate Wednesday: Abdurrahman Wahid, founder of the Muslim-oriented National Awakening Party and leader of Indonesia's largest Islamic organization.
In an almost two-hour speech to the assembly, Habibie on Sunday apologized for his failings and defended his achievements.
Megawati win far from guaranteed
Two days earlier, Habibie made a required "accountability" speech that outlined the achievements of his administration. It was widely criticized by the legislators in a lively, free-speech debate that never would have been allowed by Suharto.
Habibie's ruling Golkar Party still could withdraw his nomination if the legislators reject the content of his accountability speech.
Megawati's party and three others have said they will reject it. They control just under half the assembly seats. Golkar and the assembly's military faction, which controls 27 percent, and other small opposition groups have not announced their decision.
Although Megawati's party won the most votes in last June's parliamentary election, a win in the presidential election on Wednesday is far from guaranteed.
"Megawati is not open-minded. She refuses to compromise with other parties," said assembly member Hamdan Zulva.
Analysts say that despite Habibie's lack of popularity, vote- buying could still secure him a second term.
Indonesian lawmakers meet to iron out presidential election rules
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