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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 18:09 GMT

World: Analysis

Indonesia: BJ Habibie profile
image: [ BJ Habibie: family friend of President Suharto ]
BJ Habibie: family friend of President Suharto

Jonathan Head reports from Jakarta on the controversial man likely to become Indonesia's Vice President, BJ Habibie.

The appointment of Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie as Indonesia's Vice President is now little more than a formality. He has the endorsement of the country's powerful armed forces and the dominant Golkar party.

The BBC Indonesia Service's Frans Prayoga tells BBC World why President Suharto supports BJ Habibie (36")
It caps a remarkable rise to power for a man who lacks the military background which has been the key to success for most top Indonesian officials.

Mr Habibie was born on the island of Sulawesi in 1936. In the 1950s his family got to know the current President, Suharto, then a military officer posted to Sulawesi, who took the aspiring engineer under his wing.


BJ Habibie explains two of his economic theories (53")
Mr Habibie went for further training in Germany, where he became a director of a large aerospace company. It was there that he thought up, what he called his leapfrog theory of development, bypassing low-skill industries and going straight to the high-technology stage:

"The basis of any modern economy is in their capability of using their renewable human resources. The best renewable human resources are those human resources which are in a position to contribute to a product which uses a mixture of high-tech."

The theory convinced President Suharto. In the mid-1970s he gave his protege his own government department and unlimited funds to build South East Asia's first aircraft industry.

National airliner is not selling

Mochtar Buchori believes Habibie is a bad candidate (20")
After starting by manufacturing other countries' aircraft under licence, Mr Habibie has embarked on his most ambitious project, the N250 - a wholly Indonesian designed and manufactured airliner. Critics say it will never make money and they have not been reassured by Mr Habibie's somewhat unorthodox economic justifications for the project:

"I have some figures which compare the cost of one kilo of airplane compared to one kilo of rice. One kilo of airplane is thirty thousand US dollars and one kilo of rice is seven cents and if you want to pay for your kilo of high-tech products with a kilo of rice, I don't think we have enough."

Mr Habibie's problem is that his planes have not sold well. Indeed in an ironic twist, he has sometimes accepted rice instead of cash in order to get a sale. The national aircraft industry has been widely condemned as a waste of money and now it has lost its government funding under the terms of the recent IMF aid package.

Some Indonesians feel he is the worst possible candidate for Vice President including the anti-Suharto campaigner, Mochtar Buchori: "He is a big spender. He also practices nepotism now. With Habibie coming in there will be two people practising nepotism - Suharto and Habibie."

National achievements

But Mr Habibie does have his admirers inside Indonesia. His projects are always presented as national achievements to the Indonesian public, and he has courted senior Islamic figures, an astute move in this predominantly Muslim country.

Achmad Tirto Sudiro, leading member of the Habibie-sponsored Islamic Intellectuals Association: "He has now shown that he has the ability to achieve something. When he came back to Indonesia, the President asked him, how much time do you need to set up a plane factory and he said ten years. He started and was able to produce two to twelve. I am of the opinion that he has the vision of how to build this country in the future."

Next stop President?

[ image: President Suharto: favoured Mr Habibie over rivals]
President Suharto: favoured Mr Habibie over rivals
The question on everyone's mind now is whether Mr Habibie has his eye on the top job. In the past he has always denied it:

"No, to be frank. I am only interested in the answer to where should I be to give the maximum contribution to my society and the human race. But I am sure that until my last minutes of being alive, I will always dedicate myself to my society."

Few would believe such denials now when Mr Habibie is on the verge of moving just a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Under the provisions of the constitution, he would take over from President Suharto should he die or leave office during his next five year term - a real possibility given that the President is 76 and reportedly ill.

But everything rests with Mr Suharto. Until now he always favoured Mr Habibie over his rivals but whatever the constitution says he may still have other plans for a successor.

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