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Thursday, 21 October, 1999, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Analysis: New hope for Indonesia?
The hopes of many lie with Megawati
By BBC News Online's Joe Havely

Indonesia Flashpoints
The election of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesian vice president is the result many people both inside and outside the country had been hoping for.

The announcement may reassure her supporters, many of whom reacted violently following her surprise defeat in Wednesday's presidential election to Muslim cleric Abduhrahman Wahid.

But the dramatic culmination of Indonesia's first contested leadership election raises as many questions as it answers.

Indonesia's new leadership comes to office at one of the most turbulent times in the country's recent history.

The country's worst economic crisis in 30 years shows little sign of coming to an early end, and continuing communal and separatist unrest is threatening to tear the country apart.

Meeting these challenges will require bold and possibly painful decisions. But very little is actually known about the policy aims of either President Wahid or Megawati, nor is it known how well they and their supporters will work together.

Second prize

For Megawati the vice-presidency comes as something of a consolation prize following her surprise defeat in the presidential vote.

But the post does carry weight, particularly given the fragile state of President Wahid's health.

Opponents of former President BJ Habibie got their way
Many observers doubt whether the new president, who is almost blind and has suffered at least two strokes, will be able to serve out his full five-year term. If he dies or becomes incapacitated, Megawati would take over.

For President Wahid himself there are also important advantages in having Megawati as his deputy.

Her party commands the largest single share of the vote in the Indonesian parliament and she still has a large number of supporters amongst the Indonesian public.

Such strong support will be vital to push through much needed reforms.

Differing views

Until recently the two leaders were also political allies. Working alongside each other should now enable them to build on a long-standing friendship.

Nonetheless they have starkly differing outlooks in a number of critical areas.

It is not yet clear, for example, what role religion will play in Indonesian politics. President Wahid is a Muslim cleric and leader of the largest Islamic organisation in the world's most populous Islamic country.

He has frequently spoken out in favour of keeping the state and religion separate - and so too has Megawati. But one of the key forces behind Mr Wahid's election victor was support from the powerful Islamic parties, and they are now likely to want something in return.

Fragile democracy

There are also powerful figures from the Suharto era lurking in the background who might wish to see Indonesia's fragile democracy knocked off the rails.

It is still not known, for example, who was behind the two car bombs in Jakarta which exploded shortly before Mr Wahid's victory was announced, killing two people.

Some observers suggest that elements in the military may be trying to destabilise the situation for their own ends.

Certainly question marks remain over the future position of the military in Indonesian politics.

The decision by army chief General Wiranto not to stand for the vice presidency indicates that, for the time being at least, the army is content to take a back seat.

But the army has been a powerful force in Indonesian politics ever since the state achieved independence from the Dutch, and it may wish to continue to play a political role.

Furthermore the military is thought to have given its 38 votes in parliament to Mr Wahid - making it another group that has a few favours to call in from the new president.

The next stage on Indonesia's journey from dictatorship to democracy gives rise to hope, but also plenty of questions.

"An overwhelming sense of relief" - Simon Ingram reports from Jakarta
See also:

21 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
20 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
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21 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
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