Hello, Habibie

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JAKARTA: "I know the task before me is heavy," said Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie in his first address to Indonesia as president. He wasn't kidding. There is little enthusiasm for Suharto's cohort and former cabinet member, who has managed to irritate the military, foreign investors and home-grown protesters alike over the past 20 years. Whether he continues to rankle -- and puts his new job at risk -- depends on the announcement Friday of the first Habibie cabinet. "If he names reliable, non-corrupt technocrats, that will go down really well," says TIME Jakarta correspondent Terry McCarthy. "But if it's just another bunch of cronies, that won't be accepted and there will be further turmoil."

Described by one newspaper as a "high-tech dreamer," Habibie runs his own web site, loves e-mail, and adorns his office with model airplanes. But his passion for costly science projects has hardly endeared him to the IMF, and his insistence on overseeing arms trade has won him few friends in the army hierarchy. To save his neck now, Habibie needs to stick close to his staunch ally General Probowo -- and keep well away from the nationalist General Wiranto. Will he stick it out until the next election, ostensibly in 2003? "I'd be surprised if Habibie lasts that long," says McCarthy. "The strains of ruling this country are going to be so tough that he'll come a cropper before then."