Megawati: Indonesia’s Lady of Stamina
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Megawati: Indonesia’s Lady of Stamina

By Andreas Harsono JULY, 2001 - VOLUME 9 NO.6

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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 US-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.

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