Habibie Promises Indonesia Elections

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Score one for the students in the struggle to shape the post-Suharto Indonesia. Monday's announcement that the government would release some political prisoners and hold new elections within a year cheered student activists who had been forcibly ejected from parliament on Friday as the military looked to stabilize the country. What's more, officials said they would begin an inquiry into the web of business arrangements between the Suharto family and the government that has left family members with an estimated $40 billion fortune.

The announcements helped mollify Indonesians who viewed new president B.J. Habibie, a member of the authoritarian system of crony capitalism that has brought the country to its knees, as more part of the problem than part of the solution. While the move should cheer investors and the IMF, it has the military more than a little nervous. Armed forces head General Wiranto has argued that an investigation into Suharto's wealth would only add to national disunity.

Still, it's too early to tell whether Habibie is serious about all this, or is merely trying to buy more time for Suharto and family to flee the country. What is certain is that he should probably start laying in his presidential souvenirs from a run at the top that's looking more and more like it will be a brief one.