Why B. J. Habibie Likes a Man in Uniform

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B. J. Habibie has a lot of ’splainin’ to do.... As 10,000 demonstrators pelted police with rocks and Molotov cocktails in the streets outside, the Indonesian president delivered a make-or-break address to Indonesia’s parliament Thursday. Habibie is required to give an account of his 16-month stewardship, and if a majority of delegates reject the substance of his speech he’ll be forced to withdraw from the presidential race. And despite his pleas for understanding, the odds are certainly stacked against him. Not only does his ruling Golkar party lack anything close to a parliamentary majority, but Habibie’s handling of the East Timor crisis and of investigations into corruption at the highest levels have drawn a tsunami of criticism.

In the end, though, Habibie’s fate may rest in the hands of armed forces chief General Wiranto, widely regarded as the most powerful man in Indonesia. In an attempt to plug into that power, Habibie on Wednesday nominated Wiranto as his vice-presidential running mate for the October 20 runoff vote in the 700-seat constitutional assembly. It could all but ensure success for Habibie — ifWiranto accepts. But as of Thursday, he’d given no indication of whether he would run with Habibie. "Wiranto has been content to use Habibie as a front man to take the heat for decisions that aren’t popular," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "They have a good working relationship that would allow Wiranto to effectively run the country. But Wiranto’s decision on whether to accept the offer will depend on whether Wiranto believes Habibie is a viable candidate." Because while Habibie’s options may be dwindling, most of Indonesia’s politicians would want Wiranto on their team.