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Opposition grows stronger, louder in Indonesia

Uneasiness over Indonesia's political stability has grown in the wake of charges of a plot to assassinate President Suharto and overthrow the government.

It is difficult to assess the seriousness of the alleged plot, revealed last week by Security Commander Admiral Sudomo. But it seems clear that the allegation is related to the development in recent months of an increasingly unified and vocal high-level opposition.

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This coincides with rising concern that popular discontent and religious differences could grow amid an inflation rate of 40 to 55 percent in this country of 142 million people.

Admiral Sudomo's allegations concerning the plot link it to a group of 50 prominent Indonesians who have heightened their criticism of President Suharto.

Since May a "group of 50" has been capturing publicity with charges that General Suharto has improperly expanded his power and sought to use the Army for his own ends. It claimed he was misinterpreting the state "pancasila" (ideology) for his own purposes.

The group included former Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap, Mohammad Natsir , and Syafruddin Prawiranegara; former Jakarta Governor and Marine commander Gen. Ali Sadikin; former Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Haris Nasution; former all-Sumatra military commander Gen. Mokoginta; former Adm. Mohamad Kamal; and former Air Marshal Suyitno Sukirno.

It is not clear whether Admiral Sudomo linked the assassination plan with the same "group of 50." But the group of 50 he cited did include Ali Sadikin and General Mokoginta.

The question is whether President Suharto faces a serious and growing challenge, or whether all this simply reflects the characteristic ebb and flow of Indonesian politics. Vague charges of plots and counterplots sometimes surface. They become symbols of the political maneuvering going on behind the scenes.

All this may be picking up steam because President Suharto, 15 years in power , plans to run for a fourth five-year term in an election scheduled for early 1983. His opponents want to force him out.

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Certainly little of the criticism appears new. Often it concerns rumors of corruption by members of the President's family, including his wife, Tien Suharto.

But the systematic criticism by the "group of 50" that began May 13 showed a new degree of opposition unity. The group actually petitioned parliament for General Suharto's censure.

The government ordered newspapers, radio, and television to ignore the petition. But supporters of the censure move circulated the document through private channels. The government has responded to the growing opposition by denying the accusations. This indication of sensitivity, says one analyst, is a sign of weakness in the Indonesian context.

In March and April, the President told military audiences that efforts to overthrow his government and rumors accusing his family of large-scale corruption were malicious. He denied a rumor he was having an affair with a movie actress.

High-level maneuvering and criticism becomes most important if the differing factions are able to "latch onto" grass-roots discontent. This is why the hardships imposed by high inflation cause some concern. There is also concern that, in the wake of Iran, the dividing lines between Muslim and non-Muslim groups will harden.

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