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Thursday, 21 October, 1999, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Analysis: Megawati's struggle for power
Megawati
Seen by some as aloof: Megawati has shunned media interviews
By Anton Alifandi of the BBC's Indonesian Service

Megawati Sukarnoputri's surprise defeat in the presidential election stunned supporters who had been waiting for the moment since her party won the general election in June.

But while the defeat came at the hands of her ally Abdurrahman Wahid and an alliance of Muslim parties, their willingness to back her for the vice presidency means that she will become one of the most important figures in Indonesia.

Indonesia Flashpoints
After the victory of Megawati's PDI-P party in the 7 June elections, many of them feel cheated by her failure to get the presidency.

Part of the reason for her defeat may be that Muslim groups in parliament were unwilling to give their backing to a woman for president.

But she has also been criticised for being aloof and complacent - dangerous attributes in the swift-changing world of Indonesian politics.

Although Megawati was a focus for opposition against the government of President Suharto, she was barely involved in the mass movement which toppled Suharto last May, causing many to doubt her judgement and leadership qualities.

She even called for lenient treatment towards the former president who has been reviled by other opposition leaders and the popular press.

Views under scrutiny

The fall of Suharto led to a greater scrutiny of her views.

As a victim of an authoritarian regime herself - the government of President Suharto, fearing her popularity, engineered a coup to topple her from the party leadership in 1996 - pro-democracy activists thought she would sympathise with the East Timorese cause for independence.

Instead she questioned President Habibie's authority to offer a vote to the East Timorese to decide their future, and was highly critical of the whole referendum process.

Though her party says it will abide by the decision to grant East Timor independence, Megawati is a nationalist at heart. She holds similar views on Aceh, where there is also strong separatist sentiment.

Megawati is surrounded by an astute circle of economic and political advisers - as well as spiritual healers but she is often portrayed as lacking the political will to unite Indonesia's fractious political camps.

She shuns media interviews, and refused to take part in head to head debates with other candidates.

Analysts say that her unwillingness to take part in the messy business of politicking and coalition building has cost her dear.

In the end it appears her populist appeal, as someone who stood for the poor and disenfranchised as well as nationalist interests, was not enough in the face of the politically astute Abdurrahman Wahid.

But her supporters are not likely to take her defeat lightly, and the kind of alliance she can build with the new president in the coming days will be crucial for Indonesia's stability.

See also:

11 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
21 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
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