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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Analysis: Indonesia's problems
Protesters calling for Gus Dur - as Wahid is known - to resign
Protesters call for Gus Dur, as Wahid is known, to resign
By BBC News Online's Mangai Balasegaram

It was never going to an easy task to steer Indonesia following 30 years of autocratic rule by former President Suharto.

With hundreds of ethnic groups scattered across 13,000 islands, an ailing economy, and a huge population largely living in poverty, building a more democratic and robust nation was bound to involve a struggle.


We inherited this bad car [in Indonesia], which is hard to drive even with a good driver - but we've got a bad driver

Professor Arief Budiman
There were high expectations that President Abdurrahman Wahid, who took office in October 1998, would bring political and economic reform.

Mr Wahid began his presidency by clipping the powerful wings of the military and allowing the press to remain free.

Bomb in Jakarta
Jakarta was rocked by bomb blasts
But the world's fourth-most populous nation has since endured a rough ride.

"The legacy of Suharto made it difficult - we are in an economic crisis inherited by that corrupt administration," Professor Arief Budiman, from the University of Melbourne, told BBC News Online.

But while the legacy may have been hard, the person in charge has also not shown a remarkable performance, Professor Arief says.

"[Mr Wahid] is erratic, he doesn't know teamwork and he dismisses his friends easily," he says. "He doesn't understand modern management. And he's very stubborn."

It has sunk into a political crisis and the economy is barely treading water with the rupiah plunging and the stock market hitting record lows.

Religious and separatist struggles have displaced a million people and killed thousands, as well as threatened the nation's fragile unity and stability.

Corruption scandals

Protest outside Suharto home
There have been almost daily protests in Jakarta
Mr Wahid pledged to fight Indonesia's endemic corruption, but has himself got dragged into two corruption scandals - one concerning the alleged theft of $4m of state funds by the president's personal masseur, while the other involving the misappropriation of a $2m fund donated by the Sultan of Brunei.

The scandals resulted in parliament issuing two formal censure motions and months of bitter political wrangling.

Mr Wahid denied any wrongdoing and the charges have since been dropped.

But the row spilt onto the streets, where tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of the president staged protests, some violent.

In East Java, the president's home province, angry and armed pro-Wahid demonstrators have repeatedly lashed out at opposition targets - particularly the offices of the former ruling Golkar party, one of the main parties behind the censure.

Trouble in provinces

Elsewhere, the country has also seen repeated violence erupting sporadically during Mr Wahid's tenure.

There has been separatist fighting in the long-restive province of Aceh, as well as Irian Jaya in the east.

Locals in Irian Jaya with the banned Morning Star flag
Separatist tensions are still strong
In the Moluccas, thousands have been slaughtered in religious violence between Christians and Muslims.

And in Borneo, ethnic tensions between indigenous and migrant communities has resulted in brutal violence and the displacement of thousands from their homes.

Many have speculated that the military have been behind some of the violence, in their efforts to destabilise Mr Wahid's administration - helped by former Suharto allies.

"Suharto's cronies are still there," says Professor Budiman, saying they remained behind in power when President Suharto stepped down.

Optimism

Indonesian soldiers
Some believe the military has encouraged Islamic militants
It does appear that the president has not been able to take action on those close to Mr Suharto, including his fugitive son Tommy, who has evaded arrest following his corruption conviction, and the politician Ginanjar Kartafasmida, who was released a week after imprisonment.

While Mr Wahid may not have a good track record, his rival Megawati Sukarnoputri also has little to show. During her 10 years in politics, she barely said a word.

Faced with a lack of good leaders, the situation looks bleak. But there is still cause for optimism, Professor Budiman says.

"People are disillusioned with their leaders. But we have many good young leaders and we have a free press," he says.

"We're realising that democracy is not an easy thing, but we still believe in it. We're heading in the right direction. We're just in a transition now."

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