Subject: GU: Megawati puts East Timor vote in doubt
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:27:27 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Guardian [UK] Saturday May 15, 1999

Megawati puts East Timor vote in doubt

Presidential challenger threatens to override UN referendum result

By John Aglionby in Lebak

Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's most popular opposition leader, dropped a bombshell on the East Timor peace process yesterday by publicly rejecting President BJ Habibie's plans for a UN-sponsored referendum. Ms Megawati, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party in Struggle and strong favourite to beat Mr Habibie in the presidential election in November, said: 'The problem of East Timor cannot be decided by Mr Habibie's government, because it does not have the legitimacy to do so.

'We have got to find a better solution.'

Theo Syafei, a leading member of her party and a former military commander of East Timor, has proposed that all 210m Indonesians should vote on whether to let East Timor go, not just the 800,000 inhabitants of the territory Jakarta invaded in 1975.

A western diplomat described Ms Megawati's remarks as 'very significant'.

There was little chance of her being able to disrupt the ballot, 'but she could reject the outcome in the MPR [upper house of parliament]'.

If she did, 'there would be a massive international back lash, and probably an intifada in East Timor'.

Mr Habibie took office last May when President Suharto was forced from power by social unrest and economic turmoil.

'His government is just a transitional one that was not chosen by the people,' Ms Megawati said in October. 'The one task it is mandated to do is to pave the way for a new, democratic, government to be elected.'

Mr Habibie has called Indonesia's first democratic general election for 44 years on June 7. But, in a policy reversal in January, he promised the East Timorese independence if they reject his alternative offer of wide-ranging autonomy in a universal ballot.

After lengthy negotiations at the UN between Indonesia and Portugal, East Timor's former colonial power, it was agreed that the vote should be held on August 8 and the result ratified by the upper house. By then, however, the house will no longer be Mr Habibie's rubber stamp. The latest opinion polls suggest that a coalition led by Ms Megdawati's party will gain a majority in the chamber, where the fate of East Timor and the choice of a new president will be decided.

Ms Megawati said yesterday: 'It would be better if decisions like East Timor and regional autonomy were left to the next government' - which will be appointed by the next president.

But she added that if she had the referendum result overturned she would look for a solution to East Timor which would not cause any more violence in the territory.

For the past six months paramilitary groups and the Indonesian army have been conducting a campaign of intimidation and murder in East Timor to destabilise the peace process. Dozens of people have died, thousands have been made refugees and there is serious concern that the referendum will not be able to proceed in a free and fair manner.

Ms Megawati, the 52-year-old daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno, was the leader of one of the two minority parties Presiddent Suharto allowed. In 1996, when her popularity was soaring, he engineered a party coup to overthrow her.

She is confident that she will soon return to the palace where she spent her childhood. 'We have got concrete goals, a good programme and good mechanisms with which to get through the election,' she said.

'That is the first step. Only then will I start thinking about the presidency.'

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