Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Indonesia MPs fight to get lucrative posts

Andreas Harsono
The Nation

The back-room horse-trading is in full swing as Megawati seeks to settle her cabinet

JAKARTA - Not more than 24 hours after dumping their president and installing his deputy, Indonesia's politicians are back doing what they have been notorious for since the ousting of Suharto: back-room deals and political manoeuvring.

This time around it is a no-holds-barred, barrack-room brawl to win cabinet seats and to fill the empty vice president's position.

Mahadi Sinambela, a legislator with the former ruling party Golkar, said in a talk show on Tuesday: "We made measurement figures to calculate power sharing. The president is measured at 15, a vice president is 10, a minister three, the military commander four and the attorney general four."

Sinambela explained that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which has the biggest number of seats in the parliament, but not a majority, has proportionally a "score of 44".

Since it already has the presidency, Sinambela said its total score is 44 minus 15, which equals 29. The number 29 means it should have only nine ministerial positions.

Sinambela's Golkar has the proportional score of 36. Golkar on Monday evening nominated its chairman Akbar Tanjung as the vice president. "Thirty-six minus 10 equals 26. Golkar should have eight ministers," Sinambela said.

Welcome to everyday Indonesian politics.

The newly installed president was initially scheduled to announce her new cabinet today, but members of the parliament are very likely to delay it.

They cannot calculate their cabinet seats without first electing the vice president.

"Some politicians have become so ambitious and impetuous. Their mentality, after all, is accumulating power," says Muhammad Budhyatna, a lecturer in communications at the University of Indonesia.

Critics say civilian politicians in Indonesia are not competent enough to lead the country out of the economic and political crisis and into a workable democracy after more than 30 years of being ruled by the authoritarian military-backed regime of president Suharto.

Salim Said, a political scientist who wrote The Genesis of Power on the Indonesian military, says the military is filling the vacuum created by weak civilian leadership and prolonged faction fighting involving ousted president Abdurrahman Wahid and the parliament.

"The armed forces are a political power now as civilians are fighting each other and the government cannot control the country," Salim was quoted by the International Herald Tribune as saying. "I think the people will come and ask the military to take over. That is what I am afraid of."

Indonesia's National Assembly, an enlargement of its 500-member parliament, dumped Wahid on Monday and elected Megawati in his place. Wahid was accused of erratic leadership, but he refused to attend the assembly to defend himself. He declared a state of emergency that prompted the assembly to immediately dismiss him.

Sidney Jones of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said: "The spectacularly poor performance of civilian politicians, legislators and president alike, is producing the very result that everyone wanted to avoid."

Megawati herself said she would like to compromise about the cabinet line up as long as she can choose her own economic ministers. She also does not mind who takes the vacant vice presidential seat.

Megawati is likely to pick old hands or technocrats who have good relations with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It indicates that she understands that Indonesia has no choice in trying to overcome its economic difficulties but to cooperate with the financial institutions.

Many politicians, however, see the No 2 seat differently. It is not only a ceremonial position but also has the biggest chance of grabbing the presidential post should anything happen to Megawati.

Contenders include parliament speaker and Sinambela's boss Akbar Tanjung and Muslim-based United Development Party chairman Hamzah Haz. Dark-horse contenders are law professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra of the Muslim-based Moon Star Party and retired army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"My friends from Golkar are greedy," says Ali Marwan Hanan of the United Development Party.

"I'm not interested in calculating politics in such a way," says Faisal Baasir, a legislator and a supporter of Hamzah Haz.

Other anti-Golkar legislators charge that Megawati would be better advised to have Hamzah Haz as her deputy on the grounds that Tanjung is heavily associated with former president Suharto.

Megawati will be less popular if her deputy is a Golkar politician. Sinambela, however, defended his party, saying that whatever the public's opinion of Golkar, it had participated in the 1999 election and won 120 seats in the parliament. "We're legitimate. We asked Akbar to chase the seat because if we don't do it other elements of the party will split."

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.

Megawati: Father's Little Girl

Andreas Harsono

In his memoirs, Sukarno: An Autobiography, Indonesia's founding president wrote that he never forgot the night of January 23, 1947, when his wife gave birth to their eldest daughter.

"It was thundering. My wife lay in the bedroom, which had been outfitted specially as a hospital. Suddenly the lights went out, the roof caved in, the dark, swollen clouds opened and water rained in like a river. "My wife was soaked, as were the [medical] instruments, bedclothes, everything. In the darkness, by the light of a candle, our daughter was born. We named her Megawati."

Megawati in Bahasa Indonesia literally means the daughter of the storm clouds. And this daughter of the clouds, more than 50 years later, stands at the very place her father used to stand: as chief executive of Indonesia.

The election of Megawati as Indonesia's fifth president will indeed bring back to life the memories of her father. It is also expected that many people will compare Megawati, widely known to be a shy, matronly personality - critics even say a "not-so-intelligent" figure - to the brilliant Sukarno, who mastered seven languages and was widely known to read Greek philosophers, Karl Marx's Das Capital, and other works when still a teenager.

Megawati was 21 years old and still a university student when then-Major-Gen Suharto put her father under military house arrest following a failed coup d'etat blamed on communists. More than 500,000 leftist activists were slaughtered in 1965 and 1966 and Sukarno died a bitter man in 1971. Megawati did not finish her undergraduate studies in those tumultuous years, and later married her first husband, an air force pilot, who died in 1970.

She was married again, to an Egyptian, for a short period before divorcing, and in 1973 married her current husband, Taufik Kiemas, a businessman who owns middle-scale businesses in Jakarta. For years, she was relatively unknown to the public compared with her siblings, who were involved mostly in social activities, and Kiemas, who was involved in a nationalist political party.

But in the late 1980s Kiemas managed to persuade his wife to join his party. She was widely seen as just a simple housewife with a simple mind until she won the party's top seat in 1993. The idea that she was only her father's little daughter prompted the military-backed Suharto regime to pressure Indonesian journalists to use the name Megawati Kiemas --after her husband-- rather than the name she is commonly known by -Megawati Sukarnoputri-- after her revolutionary father, who helped Indonesia win freedom from the colonial rule of the Dutch.

The gambit failed. Megawati became the most important opposition leader along with the Muslim intellectual Abdurrahman Wahid of the Nahdlatul Ulama Muslim group. Despite tight media censorship, thousands of her supporters ignored military warnings and vowed to continue supporting her against the military.

Columnist Goenawan Mohamad of Tempo magazine said that in a sense her critics were right but "the magic of a Sukarno does not come from the name itself. It comes from the psyche of a period which looks for a missing character: a politician who is also a public figure."

Sunday, July 01, 2001

Megawati: Indonesia’s Lady of Stamina

After years of waiting in the political wilderness, Megawati Sukarnoputri has finally taken over Indonesia’s top job. Now the real test of her staying power begins.

IT was in late 1996, a few months after hundreds of thugs, soldiers, and policemen had violently taken over the headquarters of an Indonesian opposition party. Its chairwoman, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was having a quiet evening in her spacious garden house in the remote Kebagusan area in southern Jakarta.

She finished her dinner when her brother, Guruh Sukarnoputra, called to say that he was feeling a bit unwell. Saying a few words in a big-sister-knows-best voice, Megawati told her youngest brother, "You’d better drink tea and mix it with honey. I found it effective. Make it dark."

"And please don’t go out too much," she added.

Then she hung up and returned to her guest.

Her dining room is located in the middle of the house. More than six big glass windowpanes, from one of which the guest could see a swimming pool, surrounded it. A lush, tropical backyard dominates the room. In the garden is a fishpond filled with Japanese koi carp, swimming with their bright red, white, yellow, golden, and silver skins.

"How was your trip to Burma?" Megawati asked her visitor.

"I read your letter that mentioned your meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi," she continued. 

"How do you like her? Is the big bamboo house located in her compound still there?"

This matronly figure, a woman made famous by her father’s name, was living in a political wilderness. It was not a surprise that she showed a great deal of interest in Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi. Perhaps it grew out of their similar fates. Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide election but was brutally repressed by the Burmese military. Megawati’s party was sidelined by the military-backed regime of President Suharto. Suharto did not want to see a Sukarno kid challenge his rule. Both Suu Kyi and Megawati are also the daughters of their countries’ founding fathers: General Aung San and Sukarno, respectively.

The talk lasted for more than an hour. It was pretty late when Megawati walked her guest to the front gate. The compound was empty. Some guards, who usually man a small hut, were taking their evening prayer.

"Why are there so few men here?" asked the visitor.

"We face pressure everywhere," sighed Megawati.

"How strong is your stamina to fight this political battle?" asked the visitor.

"Hmm," she began thoughtfully. 

"That’s not the question. I have been trained to be involved in politics since I was inside my mother’s womb."

"I wonder whether Soerjadi has the stamina," she continued, referring to her rival, who was installed by Suharto as a puppet leader of her Indonesian Democratic Party.

Less than one year after that evening conversation, the Asian economic crisis struck Indonesia. The rupiah exchange rate to the American dollar dropped from 2,300 in July 1997 to more than 15,000 in May 1998. Riots broke out everywhere. Student protests were aimed directly at President Suharto, whose corrupt family had allegedly accumulated more than US$15 billion since he rose to power in 1965. Suharto consolidated the military, installing his key men, including his son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, in strategic positions. His daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana tightened the family’s control over the media. Suharto also invited the International Monetary Fund to help fend off the rupiah attack. Suharto’s inner circle even provoked anti-Chinese sentiment to deflect public anger away from his corrupt administration to this relatively well-off minority. But he failed. He was tired.

In May 1998 Suharto stepped down in disgrace. A huge social movement swept the world’s forth most populous country. No one associated with his regime was immune to the anti-Suharto campaign. People were looking for alternative leaders.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a former political prisoner and the author of The Buru Quartet and The Mute’s Soliloquy, wrote that Indonesia was entering a period of social revolution. Farmers who had had their land stolen from them during the Suharto period were now taking it back by force. "It can be seen in the protests by farmers outside regional parliament buildings. It can be seen in the attacks on hundreds of police and military posts. In the past, these very same people would have let themselves be robbed of their voices, but now they are fighting back. Whether they realize it or not, they are the vanguard of a social revolution. Now the nation needs a leader."

But neither student leaders nor human rights activists had the power base to fill the vacuum. And so Megawati was immediately catapulted into this crisis. Her party won the largest number of votes in the 1999 election organized by Suharto’s successor, then-President B. J. Habibie. Two other politicians thrown into this vacuum were Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais, the chairmen, respectively, of the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah—the two largest Muslim groups in Indonesia.

Wahid was also known as a human rights activist. In 1991, he established a loosely organized "Forum Demokrasi", whose members are mostly leading intellectuals and student leaders. Wahid is also known as a campaigner for religious tolerance. He is a Muslim leader, in fact the leader of the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and thus in the world, but he embraces leaders from other religious groups: from Christians to Buddhists, from Hindus to small sects.

Wahid’s archrival is none other than Amien Rais, a U.S-trained university professor who is known to be a Muslim modernist. Their rivalry is to some extent related to the decades-old competition between the more rural-based Nahdlatul Ulama and the mainly urban-based Muhammadiyah. Both Wahid and Amien jumped into the parliamentarian race. Wahid’s party got ten percent of the final vote, while Amien’s claimed less than seven percent.

Some more conservative Muslim groups, however, sniffed at the possibility of Megawati becoming president. They immediately launched a campaign claiming that "a woman president is against Islam." Amien and Wahid did not join the campaign, but they benefited from its momentum. Amien built a coalition with Wahid.

In October 1999, the Indonesian national assembly opened the race for the presidential seat. Megawati was dramatically sidelined and Wahid became Indonesia’s first democratically elected president. In a bid to sooth her radical supporters, the national assembly elected Megawati as vice president.

Abdurrahman Wahid is a good man. As president he disbanded the notorious ministry of information. He also sacked a hawkish general who was allegedly involved in the mass killing in East Timor. He outmaneuvered many Suhartoist politicians and generals. He also offered peace talks with the rebels in Aceh in northern Sumatra and the Papuans in eastern Indonesia. But Wahid was not a good manager. It seemed that he could do everything but govern. His mistakes steadily accumulated. He sacked ministers for no clear reason. He created controversies by issuing misleading statements. He relied more on his inner circle than on his official assistants.

Ade Komarudin, a parliament member from the Golkar Party, described Wahid as a man of ambivalence: "Today he talks about regulations; but on another day he doesn’t care about the law and breaches a lot of them."

The parliament also questioned Wahid for his alleged role in two financial scandals involving figures of up to US$6 million. Wahid said he was not guilty and the attorney general’s office also declared his innocence. But this did not stop the parliament from censuring Wahid for making too many controversial policies.

The move to unseat Wahid began in the wee hours of Monday, July 23, 2001 at 1:10 a.m., when Wahid declared a state of emergency from the presidential palace in Jakarta. Wahid ordered the security forces to break up both the parliament and the assembly, freeze former president Suharto’s Golkar Party, and prepare a snap election within the next year. 

"My pledge is to preserve the integrity of this country. Twin governments will create a tremendous turmoil in our country," said Wahid, claiming that many opposition leaders, including Amien Rais, had prepared to install Megawati as a new president during a meeting held on the previous Saturday morning.

Amien Rais, however, managed to consolidate opposition parties and held a meeting just an hour after the issuance of the decree. Amien immediately talked to the press, saying that the top assembly would convene at 8 a.m. that very day. The deciding factor in this conflict was the support of both the military and the police.

Hours prior to the issuance of the decree, more than 80 tanks and armored cars were deployed in front of the Merdeka Palace. More than 2,000 soldiers also took part in a roll call at the park. The show of force was apparently meant to pressure Wahid not to dismiss armed forces commander Admiral S. Widodo.

In a bid to impose the state of emergency, Wahid had sacked Widodo, who opposed the emergency plan, and attempted to install Lt-Gen Johny Lumintang. But Lumintang, a senior army officer, refused the appointment, making Wahid’s situation more difficult. Wahid went ahead with his plan, anyway, issuing the decree and asking military commanders to obey his instructions as "the sitting president and the military supreme commander." Only the national assembly, a nearly 700-member body largely made up of 500 legislators, has the power to appoint or dismiss Indonesian presidents. Indonesia’s Supreme Court also issued a statement Monday morning, annulling Wahid’s decision and saying that the move to disband the assembly was illegal.

Indonesians were glued to live television and radio broadcasts of the nation’s first ever impeachment process as Wahid’s supporters began arriving in front of the palace in an obvious bid to protect their leader. Otherwise, however, life in Jakarta was normal. Many shops opened, although many Jakartans preferred to skip their working day to watch the impeachment process.

Monday afternoon, after learning that Wahid was not going to attend his impeachment, the assembly fired him and installed Megawati as the chief executive. "The People’s Consultative Assembly hereby dismisses Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid as the president of the Republic of Indonesia prior to the end of his term as he has been proven breaching the guidelines of the state," said Amien Rais, the speaker of the assembly.

Megawati made a short speech after the swearing-in ceremony, "To start this job, I am calling on all parties to accept this decision with an open heart. It is my belief that there is no single big group that can lead the country out of the crisis. So I expect cooperation from all parties."

A FEW days after her swearing-in ceremony, the victorious Megawati Sukarnoputri gave an exclusive interview to Time magazine. She stressed that her main priority was "to maintain the integrity of the country." Knowing that Aceh and Papua, in addition to religious and ethnic violence elsewhere in the country, would be among her biggest tests, she said, "Many of the problems and conflicts are violent in nature but we have learned that it will be impossible to settle them with more violence. The fact that the special session concluded without violence is a sign that our democracy is maturing."

Time’s Jason Tedjasukmana pressed her on this point: "There is an impression that you will be more inclined to use the military and more repressive means to settle conflicts in restive regions such as Aceh and Irian Jaya. Is this your plan?"

Megawati laughed. "The media may say this but as PDIP chairman I have had a bitter experience with violence. My whole family experienced it. We first need to follow the rules of the game. We have laws and the 1945 Constitution which makes it obligatory for me to preserve the unity of this country."

Critics doubted whether Megawati could achieve this goal without resorting to repressive measures. Some also noted that the military played a key role in bringing her to power. Dita Indah Sari, a young Indonesian woman leader who was awarded the 2001 Magsaysay Award for Emerging Leadership, said Indonesia as well as other countries in Asia such as the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Burma, still have traditional leadership based on family names or traditional organizations. "Megawati is a traditional leader. She rose to power because of her father’s aura," said Dita Sari. She added, however, that in the near future, Asia would very likely have more modern and rational leadership.

Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer pointed out that Megawati had served in parliament during Suharto’s regime. As a member of parliament, she received a house and salary from Suharto’s New Order government. "But did she ever say anything about the way her father was treated? Did she ever protest when her fellow countrymen were imprisoned? Never!"

But Megawati is not alone. Even after Suharto resigned, no one would take him to task; no one dared to bring him to trial. Silently, through his New Order prot้eg้es, Suharto still holds power in Indonesia. 

"Megawati came to power on the crest of a wave of youth rebellion. Those kids didn’t really think about it; they didn’t have any other figurehead, so they adopted her because she was Sukarno’s daughter. That’s all she is," said Pramoedya.

But never make this claim to Megawati. "Do not look at me as the daughter of Bung Karno. Let us position Bung Karno as the founder of the country," she said. Ironically, however, she always mentions her family blood when people ask her about her stamina. It was her father and mother, she said, who gave her the strength she spoke of during that late evening conversation in 1996.

Andreas Harsono is the editor of Pantau magazine.