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Western Press Review: Suharto Is Out But Perhaps Not Down

Prague, 21 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Suharto of Indonesia has resigned the presidential title he clutched for 32 years. The Western press today reacts with a mixture of credulity, skepticism, cynicism, and criticism.

NEW YORK TIMES: The fundamental question is who will hold the reins of power

The New York Times carries this analysis by Nicholas D. Kristof: "When President Suharto announced his resignation (today, i.e.. Thursday in Indonesia), perhaps the fundamental question looming over the nation and the entire region is who will hold the reins of power that he says he is giving up."

"Will Suharto really relinquish power, or does he intend to control the nation from behind the scenes, through the new president (and incumbent vice president), B.J. Habibie, his longtime protg and associate? Or will history repeat itself, and will a general take power, in much the way that Suharto wrested power from President Sukarno 32 years ago?"

Kristof writes: "For now a tense confrontation may still loom ahead. Suharto, backed by the army leader, said that Habibie would fill out the remainder of the presidential term and serve until 2003. Protesters interviewed on the street before the handover said that would be absolutely unacceptable and that they would continue to demonstrate if that happened. General Wiranto, the defense minister and armed forces chief, warned the public to accept the change and avoid unrest."

NEW YORK TIMES: Habibie is unsuited to the role of president

Philip Shenon writes in an analysis, also in The New York Times: "Clinton administration officials said that Indonesia's new president, (Habibie) is unlikely to last long in the role, and that the fate of the world's fourth most populous nation is now firmly in the hands of the military. The officials (said that Habibie is) unsuited to the role of president, given his unorthodox economic views and close association with Suharto, who was seen as almost a father to Habibie."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: Habibie is identified with the cronyism and corruption that have marked Suharto's rule

Correspondents Jennifer Lin and Michael Dorgan, writing in an analysis in the Atlanta Constitution, proclaim: "The people of Indonesia won."

The writers say: "Facing the humiliation of impeachment by the Indonesian parliament, President Suharto ended 32 years of iron rule by resigning from office and handing over the presidency to Vice President B.J. Habibie. An exhausted and humbled Suharto announced his decision in a statement from the Presidential Palace, finally succumbing to the will of the people."

"Habibie, a former minister of technology, is a longtime confidant of Suharto and is identified in the public's mind with the cronyism and corruption that have marked Suharto's rule. He may well be a transitional figure."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The old man offered a gradual retreat

But Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Stefan Klein isn't so sure the people have triumphed yet. He writes: "It could have been the speech of his lifetime. With one sentence he could have struck a blow for freedom and given some hope to his suffering people. Instead, Indonesian President Suharto stuck to his old course, twisting and using all the tactics he could muster, playing for time."

"What would have been seen as a big concession, and possibly have been greeted as a way out of the national crisis, is today seen as a joke -- too little, too late. 'I herewith announce my resignation in the interests of national unity and in upholding the wishes of my people.' Unfortunately, there was no such message -- but if there had been, it would have opened up the way for a peaceful new start."

"The old man offered nothing like this in his much-awaited television address to the nation. What he did offer was a gradual retreat."

GUARDIAN: President Suharto received a blunt ultimatum

The United States pulled the plug on (abandoned) Suharto, an analysis in The Guardian, London says. Writers Andrew Higgins in Jakarta and Mark Tran in New York say: "After a day of both eerie order and defiant rebellion, President Suharto received a blunt ultimatum from the head of his own ruling party: resign by (tomorrow, Friday) or face impeachment.

"Further pressure came from his once zealous backers in Washington. The U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, urged Asia's longest-serving ruler to 'preserve his legacy' by stepping down and making way for the country's democratic transition."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: President Suharto's resignation won't by itself keep international money flowing

Art Pine, in a Los Angeles Times news analysis, says that the United States and the IMF and other financial institutions, will demand more clarity on Indonesia's governmental transition before resuming massive aid and loans. Pine writes: "President Suharto's resignation may be a major step toward reducing the political turmoil in Indonesia, but it won't by itself keep international money flowing into that financially troubled country, U.S. and International Monetary Fund officials said." Pine says: "Officials said that even now that Suharto has stepped down, the IMF -- as well as other potential lenders, such as the United States -- would need more information to make their decisions, meeting with the new government to see what its policies would be."

The writer says: "IMF officials have rejected complaints by critics that the organization's tough prescriptions for reform helped spark political unrest in Indonesia. Fischer said Wednesday that on many measures, such as increasing gasoline prices, Suharto went further than the IMF had sought." Pine writes: "The reforms that the IMF has demanded of Indonesia include tighter regulation of its banking system, restructuring corporate debt, ending subsidies to special interest groups and eliminating monopolies, some of which are owned by Suharto's family."

TIMES: It seems Suharto's successor is unlikely to be any of the current contenders

The Times of London carries a news analysis by correspondent David Watts in Indonesia. Watts finds the question of Suharto's successor muddled. He writes: "Whoever emerges as the figure to lead Indonesia out of its present crisis it seems unlikely that it will be any of the current contenders."

Watts says: "Until his humiliation by the army over the past 24 hours, many believed the American-educated Amien Rais was the best bet as a civilian leader. Even among the opposition, however, he is seen as something of an opportunist who demonstrated such confidence after a recent visit to America that he was considered to be Washington's choice. That alone was sufficient to damage his chances in a country that has a long history of CIA manipulation."

The writer adds: "Mr. Rais is thought to favor turning Indonesia into a Muslim state, something other Muslim leaders do not want.

"Among those is Abdurraham Wahid who leads the larger Nahdatul Ulama Muslim grouping. Mr. Wahid, a multilingual intellectual, has spoken of the dangers of a fundamentalist Islamic state, spoken against the President's attempts to manipulate the Muslims and has managed to keep President Suharto politically at arm's length."