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Seeking directions: Indonesia at the crossroads

JAKARTA: Thousands of police and troops formed a security ring around parliament on Tuesday as Indonesia's highest legislative body opened a...

JAKARTA: Thousands of police and troops formed a security ring around parliament on Tuesday as Indonesia’s highest legislative body opened a much disputed session to discuss political reforms and prepare for fresh elections.

“Today we are opening together a new leaf in the history of Indonesia, today we are correcting the direction of the nation’s journey,” House Speaker Harmoko at the opening of the session.

The four-day special session of the 1,000-member People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), is its first meeting since the fall of long-time ruler Suharto in May.

Students and reformists, who renewed their protest, have rejected the meeting as being held by a Suharto-era body which will only seek to maintain the status quo. Several groups have pledged to hold daily street protests to disrupt the meeting.

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Others have warned of civil disobedience should the MPR fail to introduce reforms. "The Assembly should be capable of catching the vibrations of the aspirations of the people, who want reform inevery field,” Harmoko said, as Indonesian president B J Habibie watched from his seat on the side of the podium.

Habibie, who has pledged the session would be part of his national agenda for reform, did not address the opening.

The MPR is expected to discuss scores of political decrees and determine a date for elections next year which would lead to a new president before the end of 1999.

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“Such a variety of reform proposals need to go through a conceptualization process to formulate them clearly, and then these formulations need to be legitimized through a constitutional process,” said Harmoko, who was appointed by Suharto to his post last year.

He said that besides preparing for elections in 1999, the MPR would discuss decrees that lead to laws including a limit on presidential terms and assuring a clean government through the eradication of collusion, corruption and nepotism.

Two of the reformists’ main demands are that the MPR oust the military from the legislature and allow a comprehensiveinvestigation into the wealth of Suharto and his family.

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Meanwhile, security arrangements were very tight. The front of the parliamentary complex largely depended on some of the 125,000 civilian volunteer auxiliary force and approaches to the area were covered by soldiers and the police.

The rear of parliament was green with a tent city housing some 2,000 soldiers who have been stationed there in recent weeks.

The military has deployed more than 16,000 police and soldiers in the capital to safeguard the session, with thousands placed in and around parliament.

Main avenues around the complex appeared deserted as the session began, with access to the parliament buildings blocked off by troop-controlled barricades.

First published on: 11-11-1998 at 12:00:00 am
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