Indonesia's history and its situation after the
elections: Wahid and Sukarnoputri in power
Together with Hatta, Sukarno (1901-70) proclaimed Indonesia's independance in 1945. In 1949, after the Netherlands recognized Indonesia's sovereignty, Sukarno became the country's first president. In addition, Sukarno stands for his less memorable "five principles" of Hindu-Javanese, Islamic and socialist ideas. In 1955, he was among the initiators of the non-alignment mouvement, proclaimed in the Indonesian city of Bandung. Furthermore, in 1959, he introduced the system of "guided democracy" in his country, he conceded more influence to the communists and persued a policy of rapprochement with the PRC and, after 1963, a policy of confrontation towards Malaysia. In the events around the failed communist putsch in 1965, Sukarno did not distinguish himself by a clear position and lost subsequently power. In 1967, he officially stepped down as president of the Indonesian state and was placed under house arrest. Although his daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, can not be held responsible for the socialist, anti-Western and other errors of her father, it is not very assuring that current Vice President has not officially distanced herself from Sukarno. Furthermore, Megawati Sukarnoputri has not distinguished herself by clear political positions. Besides being the daughter of Sukarno, she seems not to have specific political qualities, otherwise Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid would not be president in her place today. Being Sukarno's daughter alone does not give her automatic qualifications for a political mandate. Her dubious "family bonus" will not help Indonesia to recover, but who knows, she might become a better co-leader (or later even leader) than her past let's us expect.
Born in 1946 during the war of independance, Megawati Sukarnoputri spent her childhood at Merdeka Palast. She studied agriculture at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, but dropped out as her father lost power in 1967 in order to be with him. In 1970, Megawati started studying psychology at the University of Indonesia, but dropped out again after only two years. She had lost her first husband in a tragic airplane crash in Irian Jaya in 1970. Two years later, she married an Egyptian diplomat posted in Jakarta. Because no official declaration that her first husband had died was ever issued, the marriage was annulled only two weeks later. As the declaration was delivered in 1973, the Egyptian diplomat had already returned to his country. But that same year, Megawati Sukarnoputri married her present husband, Taufik Kiemas, and has three children.
Only in 1987 did Megawati join politics in the form of government-controlled Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). This was made possible by a political misconjecture by Suharto. For their help in the party's election campaign in 1987, she and her husband got rewarded by the PDI leadership with seats in the House of Representatives, where she remained from 1987 to 1993. In 1992, the government started attacking Sukarnoism when it banned PDI from using pictures of Sukarno in the election campaign. The repressive regime of Suharto, the governing Golkar Party and the military, which harrassed Megawati like a lot of other Indonesians, made Sukarno's daughter the figure of integration of the opposition. She became especially popular among the poor. As Suharto and the military realized that Megawati would win the battle for the presidency of the PDI, they intervened. But popular pressure forced the government to accept her election in a third attempt that same year. Megawati served as president of the PDI form 1993 through 1998. In 1996, the government and the military tried again to remove her through intrigue. Of course, that only strengthened her position as a symbol of resistance to the regime. Since she only fought with legal means and showed combativeness, her ascent became almost irresistible. The economic crisis and Suhartos downfall in May reinforced her even more. At the beginning of 1999, she changed her party's name into in PDI Perjuangan (battle) in order to differentiate it from the pseudo-PDI backed by the government. But in the critical moments of this year, Megawati neither distinguished herself by clear political positions and initiative nor by approaching other reform leaders. As a result, she got defeated in the presidential election. Her agenda remains unclear.
In Indonesia, politics and economics build a dung heap that needs cleaning up. The newly-elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, announced on his trip to the USA that he was considering sacking three ministers accused of corruption, collusion and nepotism. This would be a first step in the right direction, but only touch the tip of the iceberg. Wahid seems to be unwilling to persue a anti-western policy (like Sukarno before him or like Mahathir in Malaysia). Regarding East Timor, he showed flexibility and rapidly recognized the realities. But futher turmoil threatens Indonesia. The country is on the verge of social explosion and of breaking apart. As for Aceh, he has more or less opposed independance (not as strongly as the military). And it is not clear, whether the military and especially its strong man, General Wiranto, are willing to watch Indonesia disintegrate. Furthermore, Wiranto owes his career to the fallen dictator Suharto, whose clan lined their own pockets with billions of dollars, a fact that does not strengthen confidence in the correction of past mismanagement. On his to the USA, President Wahid suggested he may not go ahead to forcefully against Suharto. He also wants to keep his promise to pardon Suharto (and others) after a possible conviction. This is also part of the compelling logic behind Wahid's election as president. Incidentally, Wiranto remains in the cabinet as Minister for Politics and Security. Wahid nominated Kwik Kian Gie, a critic of the IMF and a political friend of Chinese descent of Megawati, as Coordinating Minister for Finance and the Economy. In recent months, Kwik has become more moderate. His appointment is also a concession to the economically-important Chinese minority. In addition, Wahid nominated the circumspect and trustworthy 47-year-old Bambang Sudibyo as Minister of Finance. He has studied in the USA and taught at the University in Yogyakarta.
Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, the nearly blind new Indonesian leader who has suffered two strokes in recent years, could take profit from Megawatis indecisiveness, lack of a clear vision and capability to gain support among other political parties in the presidential election by the parliament. Wahid was born in Jombang, East Java. Son of a religious leader who served us Minister of Religious Affairs in 1945, he was sent to traditional Islamic boarding schools. In 1964, Wahid went to Cairo, Egypt, to attend Al-Azhar Islamic University. Two years later, he changed to Baghdad University (Iraq) to educate himself in literature and social studies. There, he allegedly was close to the Baath Party of rising Saddam Hussein and his socialist recipes. It seems that these accusations by the Suharto regime were unfounded, although Wahid was close to socialism. After his return to Indonesia in 1970, he became Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the Hasjim Asyari University in Jombang, where he worked from 1972-74. In 1974, Wahid became the Secretary-General of the Tebuireng Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school in the same city. Between 1974 and 1980, Gus Dur was also columnist for Tempo magazine. Following his move to Jakarta in 1978, he became involved in politics by joining the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which his grandfather, one of the leading Muslim leaders of the turn of the century, helped found. With its 30 million members, the NU is the largest Islamic organization in the world. In 1979, Wahid was chosen as First Secretary of the NU Supreme Religious Council and he became its General Chairman in 1984, a position, he holds today (he has been re-elected to the five-year chairmanship twice).
Despite his strong Muslim faith, Gus Dur is a moderte, tolerant leader who strongly advocates the separation of religion and state, an important quality in multi-religious Indonesia. That has earned Wahid the respect among the non-Muslim communities, including Indonesia’s strong Chinese (largely Christian) minority. After becoming its chairman in 1984, Gus Dur favoured the return of the NU on the political scene. In the early 1990s, he spoke harshly against the rise of sectarian politics (including Habibie and his ICMI). As a frontrunner for democratic reform, he founded the National Awakening Party, the political wing of the NU, in 1998. He also campaigned for Megawati Sukarnoputri, until a recent split, largely over Megawati’s refusal to work with other political parties. But Wahid is also described as a controversial, impredictable political figure. He sometimes tells different people different things in an attempt to please everybody.
After his election as President of the Republic of Indonesia on October 20, 1999, Wahid chose Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice President. That helped cool down Indonesia's overheated social and political situation. Wahid and Megawati are reunited, not in opposition, but in power. The allegedly "blind and lame" are leading the biggest Muslim country of the world into the future. Their forcefulness could decide on the stability of a whole region. Wahid's trip to the USA seems to indicate that his health is not as weak as feared by some observers and that he is not inclined to persue socialist or protectionist policies. But radical changes for reform do not seem to be on his agenda either. The "teacher of the nation", father of four daughters, has almost only his moral authority on his side in persuing the task - that nobody envies - of modernizing and stabilizing Indonesia. With (expected) failures, the still largely positive atmosphere could rapidly change right round.
Some biographical information on Wahid and Megawati comes from the Jakarto
An introductory booklet in French, highlighting the background of Indonesian society (unfortunately without entering into the failures of Sukarno): François Raillon: Indonésie. La réinvention d'un archipel. La Documentation française. 1999, p. 177.
No. 1, December 1999
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