Habibie ally wins vote to head Indonesia's ruling party Losing candidate reported to have Suharto's support


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's new president, B. J. Habibie, consolidated his hold over the country's politics yesterday when one of his close advisers won a hotly contested vote to lead the country's dominant political party.

It was the first electoral test for the man who was almost nobody's choice to succeed President Suharto six weeks ago, and who many people believed would hold office only fleetingly.

Habibie's control over the party greatly improves his ability to set the political agenda and remain in office at least until the end of next year, when he has scheduled a parliamentary vote for a new president.

Habibie's candidate, Akbar Tanjung, who is his executive secretary, defeated Edy Sudrajat, a former armed forces chief, who according to some political analysts had the behind-the-scenes support of Suharto.

Suharto, who stepped down in May in the face of widespread protests, is moving on several fronts to try to protect his family's wealth and business interests, Indonesian officials say. He has used the governing party, Golkar, as a vehicle to wield his personal power since it was formed in 1964.

Akbar vowed to change things.

"I promise to improve and reform Golkar and rid it of nepotism, corruption and collusion," Akbar told reporters.

In an immediate sign of change yesterday, a son and daughter of Suharto lost their posts in the party hierarchy.

The vote for Akbar among regional party delegates, at the end of a three-day conference, was 17-10. It was the first time in three decades that the party leadership had been decided by a vote, rather than by Suharto.

Despite his success yesterday, Habibie has not yet won broad backing within the political establishment. His continued tenure is a source of discontent among many Indonesians who had hoped for a clean break with the past.

No matter what steps he has taken, many Indonesians just do not think he is credible as a president.

An aeronautical engineer who served as Suharto's minister of research and technology, Habibie was perceived by many people as a political lightweight.

As Suharto's longtime friend and hand-picked vice president, he is seen by many as too closely associated with the 32-year rule of his predecessor to be the standard bearer for reform.

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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