Fri, 19 Mar 1999

5 ministers barred from campaigning

JAKARTA (JP): Five members of the 37-strong Cabinet are prohibited from campaigning during the June 7 general election, Minister of Information Muhammad Yunus said on Wednesday.

Minister of Home Affairs Syarwan Hamid, Minister of Justice Muladi, Minister of Defense/Armed Forces Commander (ABRI) Gen. Wiranto, Attorney General Andi M. Ghalib and Coordinating Minister for Development Supervision and Administrative Reforms Hartarto are banned from participating in political campaigns.

The announcement was made as Yunus conveyed results of a three-hour Cabinet meeting on people's welfare and poverty eradication at Bina Graha presidential office.

He did not explain whether the decision was discussed during the meeting, however Hartarto was seen whispering to Habibie just before the Cabinet meeting.

Yunus said Hartato provided him with a copy of the decree after the meeting and asked him to announce the details.

"I did not even read the contents (of the letter) before announcing it to you."

Yunus asserted he did not know why the order was issued by Hartato rather than President B.J. Habibie. He also claimed he did not know why the five Cabinet members were the only officials barred from campaigning.

"Frankly speaking, I forgot to ask about the reason."

The 48 parties eligible to contest the election -- with the exception of Golkar which is chaired by Minister/State Secretary Akbar Tandjung -- pressured Habibie to disallow Cabinet members from campaigning. Party representatives claim a potential abuse of power and ministerial conflict of interest.

"Ministers and high-ranking officials should not be allowed to participate in campaign activities," State Minister of Food and Horticulture A.M. Saefuddin, also deputy in the United Development Party (PPP), said before the meeting.

No explanation was given why several other Cabinet ministers with ties to political parties were not also barred from campaigning.

The ministers are State Minister of Investment Hamzah Haz, also United Development Party (PPP) chairman, Saefuddin, one of Hamzah's deputies and State Minister of Environment Panangian Siregar, who represents the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).

Minister of Cooperatives and Small Enterprises Adi Sasono, a Golkar executive, said he will not campaign, citing a full schedule.

Cabinet members active in ABRI are not permitted by law to participate in political campaigns. They are Minister of Transmigration Lt. Gen. Hendropriyono and Yunus himself.

"Even if I were already retired, I would prefer not to campaign," Yunus said.

Following the media briefing, Yunus caused some hilarity when he mistook the President's vehicle for his own.

"I thought the car was for me," he said, bursting into laughter. (prb)