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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Wahid: Indonesia's erratic leader
President Wahid
President Wahid: Unlikely choice
Dismissed as Indonesia's president, Abdurrahman Wahid has in two years changed from being the one man who could command a coalition of political support, to the one man who could unite Indonesia's politicians in opposing him.

Over his last months in power he became increasingly politically isolated as he fought the national assembly (MPR) and its legislators' drive to have him impeached.

Repeatedly he threatened to declare a state of emergency only to see the military and police refuse to back him, and finally for parliament to call his bluff.

Mr Wahid's last throw of the dice was to refuse to leave the presidential palace.

But after a few days he backed down and his family said he had accepted the reality of the situation.

Unlikely choice

At the time of his appointment in October 1999 Mr Wahid appeared an unlikely choice as president.

Frail and nearly blind, the 60-year-old Muslim leader was also politically weak, with less than 10% of parliamentary seats - a political dwarf compared to the populist Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose party holds a third of seats.

But Indonesia's legislators, who elect a president, decided to trust in Mr Wahid nevertheless.

Wahid and Megawati
Megawati became Wahid's vice-president, but relations cooled
Mr Wahid offered hope for the country's first real experiment in democracy, appearing to espouse tolerance and moderate politics.

And he quelled the voices of more conservative and Muslim parties, who shrank from having a female leader in Megawati.

A well-respected intellectual from a prominent Muslim family, he was also no shy critic, daring to speak up during the autocratic rule of former President Suharto.

Besides, Mr Wahid seemed to have proved himself as a leader, having successfully led the 30-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation.

Dream disintegrates

Yet, within a matter of months, that dream of a democratic transformation was already fast unravelling.

The rupiah has been one of the casualties in the crisis
He became embroiled in a corruption scandal when his personal masseur fled, allegedly with more than $4m of state funds.

Mr Wahid himself was accused of misappropriating donations from the Sultan of Brunei.

He was censured by parliament, despite his repeated denials of wrongdoing and the somewhat circumstantial evidence against him.

The world's fourth-largest nation now lies in a mess.
Some supporters want to fight a "holy war" for Wahid
Under his stewardship, the country was blighted by economic turmoil, with the freefall of the rupiah, as well as recurrent violence.

Jakarta has seen bloody political protests, with ethnic and religious bloodshed elsewhere, and separatist tensions in far-flung provinces.

The enormous archipelago appears to be fraying at the edges.


All the qualities that were once hailed about Mr Wahid now appear to his shortcomings - his tenacity is seen as stubbornness, his outspokenness viewed as diplomatically dangerous, and he has upset some foreign governments.

His erratic behaviour and conflicting statements may have helped him survive the Suharto era, but in a president they appear sorely out of place.

Wahid has a range of health problems
Far from being a model of democratic leadership, he has been seen as high-handed and autocratic.

This was his leadership style as head of the NU - appropriate perhaps for a Muslim organisation that was once his father's perhaps, but unacceptable to parliament.

Legislators complained he treats parliament with contempt, and Mr Wahid himself once likened the institution to a kindergarten.

He reportedly took criticism as a personal slight, and remained dismissive when MPs censured him.

Parliament has been so arrogant

President Wahid
Due to his impaired eyesight, Mr Wahid relies on aides and family members, particularly his daughter, to read him newspapers and correspondence - but they are sometimes said to avoid reading reports that criticise him.

And in some cases, they have failed to convey important messages.

See also:

21 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: New hope for Indonesia?
21 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's Islamic presidency?
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