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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Abdurrahman Wahid: Indonesia's careful leader
President Wahid
President Wahid: Reputation as a political survivor
Frail and nearly blind, Abdurrahman Wahid would not at first glance appear to be the natural choice to lead Indonesia along the shaky path from dictatorship to democracy.

Abdurrahman Wahid
Indonesia's first democratically elected president
Came to prominence as leading Muslim cleric
Nickname: Gus Dur
Elected Indonesia's fourth president in October 1999, Mr Wahid, a prominent Muslim cleric, emerged the victor from what were the most free elections the country has ever seen.

His victory came as a shock to many who had expected Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, to win the presidency.

Mr Wahid jokes that while Sukarno was crazy about women; his successor, Suharto, was crazy about money; and the third president, BJ Habibie, was just plain crazy - in his own case he says it was those who elected him who were the crazy ones.

Muslim leader

Wahid is helped to the ballot box by his daughter
Mr Wahid may be frail but is still seen as a wily operator
Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is popularly known, came to prominence as one of the most well-known and respected religious figures in Indonesia.

Educated in Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and Canada, the frail leader has long had a reputation for tolerance and moderate politics.

Under President Suharto, Mr Wahid headed the 30-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation.

In this position he built a reputation as a political survivor carefully balancing criticism of Mr Suharto's rule with the prospect of winning over the NU's vast support base.

Opposing Islamisation

As the Suharto government eventually crumbled there were increasingly vocal calls for Islam to be given a greater political role in the Indonesian state.

But in spite of his own conservative nature Mr Wahid has consistently opposed any such moves.
Muslims at prayer
Mr Wahid has resisted calls for increased Islamisation of politics
Increased Islamisation, he believes, could spell the end of Indonesia which is already troubled by ethic separatism and inter-religious tension.

His stance has brought him criticism from Islamic circles but earned him the respect of many non-Muslims throughout Indonesia, including the country's Christian and ethnic Chinese communities which he sees as vital for the national economy.

That popularity was given a boost in February when Mr Wahid withdrew Suharto-era laws banning the Chinese community from openly celebrating the lunar new year.

When he came to power many predicted that Mr Wahid would not last long in office.

But in spite of an uncertain start his government has survived continued economic turmoil, religious bloodshed, ongoing separatist violence and rumours of military coups.

Political chess game

The show-down with General Wiranto raised fears of a coup
The legacy of decades of autocratic rule remains strong and Mr Wahid has had to tread carefully so as not to antagonise those who remain wary of Indonesia's new-found democracy.

Direct confrontation is rare in the delicate chess game of Indonesian politics, and Mr Wahid is an experienced operator.

His dealings with former army chief General Wiranto over his alleged complicity in army atrocities in East Timor have appeared at times erratic, however local observers say this is the only way for him to survive.

Inevitably though, inconsistency can also be interpreted as indecisiveness and many have questioned whether he is the right person to steer Indonesia through its political and economic crises.

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See also:

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