Tuesday, July 24, 2001

A mountain awaits Mega

Andreas Harsono
The Nation Asia News Network

JAKARTA -- New Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is arguably the most popular leader in Indonesia, having fervent supporters in all walks of life, from movie stars to street vendors, from Muslim clerics to Christian activists in this vast archipelago of 220 million people.

Her nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle also has the biggest - albeit less than a majority - number of seats in the parliament, making her position much stronger than that of her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid.

But Megawati also faces a very complicated situation in a country whose economy is in ruins following the Asian economic crisis, whose legal system has been corrupted by three decades under former dictator Suharto, and whose provinces - such as Aceh in northern Sumatra and Papua in eastern Indonesia - are rife with separatism, not to mention the ethnic and religious fighting that has broken out in more than a dozen places.

Megawati faces two immediate tasks. The first is how to pull off a face-saving exit for her long-time friend Abdurrahman Wahid, who continues to decline to hand over presidential power, and whose supporters might in a day or two swamp Jakarta and other provincial capitals to create security problems.

Human rights activists in Jakarta have begun to talk about granting Wahid a special title such as "guru of the nation", or hold a welcoming party for "the return of a pro-democracy activist".

Wahid has long been known as an advocate of human rights and religious tolerance. His friends in Thailand include "Mr Condom", Meechai Viravaidya. "He does not hurt the heart of the people. Indeed, he makes small managerial mistakes. But he is basically a good man," said Tedjabayu, a former political prisoner in the 1970s, who previously worked with Wahid in Indonesia's Legal Aid Institute.

Megawati's second task will be to announce her cabinet line-up tomorrow. Her advisors include respected economists Kwik Kian Gie and Laksamana Sukardi, retired general Theo Syafei, veteran politicians Sutardjo Surjoguritno and Sabam Sirait, as well as a number of businessmen.

But Megawati is under pressure to include ministers from other political parties as well as the military. Both camps helped her to gain the presidency. Jakarta's culture of back-room deals and money politics might hamper the ability of Megawati, whose grip on economic problems has been criticised, to choose the best team.

She also tends to favour economists who used to work for the Suharto regime and have close links with the International Monetary Funds and the World Bank.

Critics said Megawati should not work with these technocrats on the grounds that they have no experience working under political pressure. Rizal Ramli, an economic aide to Wahid, frequently clashed with the technocrats as well as the Washington-based twin institutions that are held responsible by many for the country's economic problems.

Megawati is also very likely to give more say to the military when dealing with security problems in Aceh and Papua. Just like her nationalist father, President Sukarno, Megawati will not talk with rebels seeking independence from Indonesia.

To some extent, Wahid was more flexible than Megawati. Wahid was also witty and courageous person when dealing with Indonesia's army generals, who have habitually involved themselves in Indonesia's politics and been accused of human rights abuse over the last 50 years.

Demands have been made by human rights groups and former political prisoners on every post-Suharto government to implement institutional justice, especially to bring to trial officers who allegedly abused human rights and Suharto cronies who lined their pockets with billions of dollars. Many of these corrupt figures are closely linked to the political parties that brought Megawati into the chief executive position yesterday.

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