Eyewitness: Indonesia's turmoil continues

July 27, 2001

Early on Monday morning, Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid issued a decree "freezing" the two houses of parliament, calling for an election within a year, and suspending the former ruling party, Golkar. His attempt to cling to power was to no avail - the security forces ignored the order and within hours he was holed up in his palace as the legislature replaced him with his deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

C. W. Watson, reader in social anthropology at the University of Kent and a specialist on Indonesia, said it was not surprising that President Abdurrahman was forced out - only that he managed to cling on for so long. "The only commonly shared sentiment of the coalition that supported him in 1999 was a strong desire to keep Megawati and her nationalist party out of office.

"The honeymoon did not last long and it soon became clear to his coalition partners that despite his obvious political skills - at mediating and power-brokering - Abdurrahman was politically incompetent and an economic disaster for the country."

Nevertheless he retained support among some non-governmental organisations and student groups that turned to him after supporting his major rivals in 1998-99. "Megawati will be given a brief honeymoon, and then she too will be expected to put the economy on an even keel, reduce unemployment and continue the prosecutions that Abdurrahman initiated against those who corruptly siphoned off the wealth of the state in the Suharto years," Dr Watson said.

"It is likely that she will win considerable backing from the armed forces, though the danger is that this will be at the cost of allowing them to regain much of the power they lost after Suharto's overthrow - a danger I think she can avoid. But it remains to be seen whether Megawati will take advantage of the goodwill among those genuinely honest Golkar politicians of great experience and appoint them to senior positions. There are many there who wish to return to the comfortable position they had during the Suharto years and they will be pushing Megawati to buy their support to that end."

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