Tue, 23 May 2000

Abdurrahman inaugurates Habibie Center

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid inaugurated the highly publicized Habibie Center on Monday and said that promoting democracy in the country is not "an easy job" as democratic traditions were virtually unknown during the past regime.

Abdurrahman said that what had been in place before were only "democratic institutions" such as the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.

"We have been able to establish democratic institutions ... but they don't work for democracy because the tradition of democracy is not known here," the President said during the inauguration ceremony of the center, which is named after his predecessor, B.J. Habibie.

"That's why I said to myself that I have to open the Habibie Center in order to allow us to develop both the institution and the tradition (of democracy)," Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, said.

According to its founders, including former justice minister Muladi, the center was established to promote democracy and human rights in the country.

Abdurrahman said, however, that the center was "the most difficult decision to be made" by Habibie.

"He is used to technology and the advancement of science, but now he has to work for democracy ... it is not easy because he knows the institutions but he (still) has to learn how to develop the tradition of democracy," the President said, referring to Habibie's 20-year tenure as research and technology minister under the Soeharto government.

Habibie took over from Soeharto, who resigned on May 21, 1998 following unrelenting student rallies, but withdrew his presidential bid last October after the People's Consultative Assembly voted against his accountability speech.

During his speech, Habibie, who grows his mustache, reaffirmed that he was a democrat at heart.

To prove his statement, he said that during his brief administration, 67 laws, 300 government regulations and 100 presidential decrees had been produced to pave the way for democracy in the country.

"Before my time, the power was in one hand, in the president's hand. (But) I had 'depowered' that ... based on my conviction," he beamed, referring to his efforts to reduce the excessive presidential power he inherited from his predecessor.

Habibie also said that the center would actively work in synergy with the government for a bright future for a democratic Indonesia.

Members of the center, who are mostly Habibie's close confidantes from when he was in power, have repeatedly denied that the center is to be used as vehicle to return Habibie to politics.

Habibie said the center, which was set up on Nov. 10 last year, was also aimed at enhancing human resources and technology. It provides scholarships and awards through the Habibie Foundation for Human Resources in Science and Technology.

Sociologist Mulyana W. Kusumah, who attended the event, said the center could become the most influential think tank for the government, given its wide-ranging fields and people behind it.

"I think it's better for the government to count on it in every policy making process," he told journalists.

Other attendants included former president of the Philippines Corazon Aquino, who chairs the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation, House legislators, diplomatic members and non-governmental organization activists.

A two-day seminar on democracy and human rights will follow Monday's opening ceremony. (01/byg)