Indonesia's new leader faced another challenge to his fledgling presidency Sunday as five government ministers, sworn in a day earlier, demanded early elections.
The new Cabinet ministers allied themselves with the top economic minister, Ginandjar Kartasasmita, who on Saturday called for a parliamentary election as soon as possible to elect a new president.Opposition figure Amien Rais, who leads the campaign for political reform, said Sunday he had been informed that President B.J. Habibie had agreed to hold early elections. Government officials were not available for comment, and Rais would not elaborate.
The transfer of power to Habibie, vice president under ousted President Suharto, calls for him to serve out Suharto's term until 2003.
Lining up behind Ginandjar are the ministers of finance, industry and trade, national development planning, state enterprises' empowerment and the Bank Indonesia governor.
Ginandjar said Saturday that some ministers never intended to serve out their five-year terms when they accepted their posts.
Six of 36 Cabinet ministers lining up against their own government was the latest twist in the unfolding Indonesian drama.
Habibie took office Thursday after Suharto resigned, ending his 32-year rule following days of protests and violence. The army sent troops and tanks onto the streets of the capital after more than 500 people were killed and thousands of buildings burned or wrecked by rioters.
Habibie was expected to order amnesty Monday for about 15 political prisoners when he holds the first meeting of his new Cabinet.
Under Suharto, Indonesia was berated for its poor human rights record. Criticism of the government was suppressed and insulting Suharto was regarded as a serious crime.
Justice Minister Muladi did not say why only about 15 would be freed or who would be released.
Human rights groups and the prisoners themselves urged Sunday that all 200 dissidents being held should be freed immediately, with an apology from the state.
On Sunday, prison officials allowed political prisoners in Jakarta's main Cipinang penitentiary to talk to journalists.
"We all have to be released now with no strings attached," said Sri Bintang Pamungkas, a former legislator imprisoned for 34 months because he cracked an insulting joke about Suharto.
Sri Bintang is expected to be among those released.
Others include Muchtar Pakpahan - who heads the country's largest, but officially unrecognized, labor union.
Human rights groups have criticized the government's decision not to release 13 elderly and sick men imprisoned after a bloody communist coup attempt in 1965.
Suharto, then an army general, crushed it and later took power from Indonesia's founding President Sukarno.
East Timorese rebels, regarded by the government as violent criminals for waging a guerrilla war since Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 on Suharto's orders, also are unlikely to be freed anytime soon.
"I don't trust Habibie because he is part of Suharto's era," said rebel leader Jose Xanana Gusmao, who was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to 20 years.
The release of any political prisoners would enhance Indonesia's tarnished international image and help it garner more aid in overcoming its worst economic crisis in 30 years.
On Tuesday, a team from the International Monetary Fund will arrive to decide whether to resume its $43 billion bailout of the economy. The IMF last week suspended its bailout package because of the nation's leadership crisis.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., will arrive in Jakarta for talks with government officials. He is chairman of the House committee on human rights.