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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Analysis: Indonesia faces more uncertainty

Mr Wahid (centre) appealed for calm after the result

By regional analyst Olivia Stewart

In a race that remained uncertain until the very last minute, an ailing Muslim cleric has beaten a popular female opposition leader to become the president of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation.

Indonesia Flashpoints
In a parliamentary vote, Abdurrahman Wahid, leader of the country's largest Muslim organisation - who had only announced his candidature last week - beat opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri who many had seen as the strongest candidate for the post by 373 votes to 313.

Mr Wahid will succeed the deeply unpopular President Habibie who withdrew his bid to retain office after failing to gain the endorsement of the People's Consultative Assembly for his brief but chaotic period as head of state.

The surprise result in Indonesia's first free presidential race in over 40 years was hailed as a victory for democracy - but it leaves many questions still to be resolved.

[ image: Angry supporters of Megawati have taken to the streets]
Angry supporters of Megawati have taken to the streets
As Mr Wahid and the defeated Megawati sang the national anthem together in parliament and called for national unity, violence erupted on the streets of Jakarta, as supporters of Megawati vented their anger at the unexpected turn of events.

The task that now falls to Abdurrahman Wahid - popularly known as Gus Dur - is a challenging one.

In recent years, Indonesia has been wracked by violence, political instability and economic chaos.

However, many observers have hailed him as a good compromise candidate - and one of the few figures capable of drawing together a divided nation.

As leader of the 30-million-strong Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama and nominee of a number of Muslim parties, Mr Wahid has a huge constituency amongst Indonesia's Muslims, many of whom abhorred the possibility of a female president.

However, Mr Wahid's support for secular government and calls for tolerance of minorities should help reassure Indonesia's non-Muslims.

[ image: Megawati was expected to win the election]
Megawati was expected to win the election
In addition, he is known as a shrewd political mover and bridge builder, as shown by his ability to trounce Megawati and pull together disparate political groups in backing of his last-minute presidential bid.

However, questions remain over the state of the new president's health. Mr Wahid, 59, has already suffered two strokes and is virtually blind.

In addition, some have criticised his political manoeuvring as a sign that he is lacking in principle.

Others have pointed to his lack of economic expertise at a time when Indonesia's fragile economy is in need of careful guidance.

Mr Wahid will also have to contend with the anger of millions of disappointed Megawati supporters.

Widely adored as daughter of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno, Megawati had been seen by many as a symbol of democratic change in Indonesia.

Her followers, clad in red and black, had already started to gather in Jakarta to celebrate what seemed to be her certain victory when news of the actual result emerged.

[ image: Riot police have clashed with Megawati's supporters]
Riot police have clashed with Megawati's supporters
In the coming days and months, much will depend on Megawati's willingness to rein in her supporters and respect the outcome of the presidential vote.

What she will expect in return - and indeed what other political deals were brokered to ensure Mr Wahid's victory - remain unclear.

The new president does appear to have won the votes of at least some members of outgoing president Habibie's Golkar party.

Wahid will also have to proceed with an eye to Indonesia's powerful military.

Despite increasing calls from the Indonesian public for the army to stay in its barracks, military leaders are likely to demand some pay-off for standing behind his presidency.

Moreover, nominations for the vice presidency take place later on Wednesday, with voting in parliament on Thursday.

Only in the coming days and weeks will the shape and colour of the new administration become clear.

Despite his reputation as a political survivor, it could take all Abdurrahman Wahid's political agility to balance the conflicting demands on Indonesia's new head of state.

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