Indonesia ex-president Habibie says he will work with "whoever is elected"

Former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie - the man credited with kickstarting the country's democratic reform - said he is looking forward to working with whoever is elected president, stressing that he will not be endorsing either of the front-runne
Former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie - the man credited with kickstarting the country's democratic reform - said he is looking forward to working with whoever is elected president, stressing that he will not be endorsing either of the front-runners for the upcoming presidential polls. -- FILE PHOTO: GLOBE ASIA

WASHINGTON - Former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie - the man credited with kickstarting the country's democratic reform - said he is looking forward to working with whoever is elected president, stressing that he will not be endorsing either of the front-runners for the upcoming presidential polls.

Answering a question from The Straits Times in Washington on Wednesday, Dr Habibie, 78, said he preferred to play the role of the "intellectual grandfather" of Indonesia's democracy rather than step into the fray personally.

"I'm not willing and not allowed," he said, when asked if he would be publicly backing either Jakarta governor Joko Widodo or former special forces chief Prabowo Subianto.

"It is better for all Indonesians if we will give to the people to elect one. If it is fairly elected, then ok, then we all support and he has to do the work. In this case, it is not wise for me as the intellectual grandfather to say I'm for you or you. It is wrong."

Speaking at an event organised by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the US Capital, Dr Habibie added: "For me, it is better to write and give ideas to the people I'm looking forward to advising whoever is elected through the democratic system. It's about time that I write, inspire people, give them advice, what to do and what not to do. I think that is better for all of us."

In his remarks, Dr Habibie laid out a to-do list for the incoming president, stressing, in particular, the need to improve the quality of the Indonesian workforce through education, lower the unemployment rate, build up the country's middle class and make Indonesia an important element between Asean and the rest of the world.

While his responses make it clear he intends to stay out of the upcoming campaign, Dr Habibie is said to remain distrustful of Mr Prabowo, after the latter tried to undermine his leadership when he was president.

Dr Habibie became Indonesia's third president in May 1998 after the resignation of President Suharto amid widespread protest. During during his one-and-a-half years in office, he implemented a range of reforms, including releasing political detainees and abolishing restrictions on the formation of labour unions.

Indonesians head to the polls this year on July 9.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg