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Sunday, 6 August, 2000, 22:16 GMT 23:16 UK
Analysis: Wahid's many problems
President Abdurrahman Wahid
President Wahid (centre) is hoping for parliamentary support
By Richard Galpin in Jakarta

Although a somewhat surprising and controversial choice as president, Abdurrahman Wahid's election brought a wave of euphoria across Indonesia.

He was seen as a reformer and democrat as well as a man who could unite the country after the chaos surrounding the downfall of former President Suharto and his authoritarian regime in May 1998.

But the transition to democracy was never going to be easy and President Wahid's honeymoon was short-lived.

Although he got off to a good start by curbing the influence of the military over his government, he soon ran into a host of problems, some of them self-made.

Despite a flare-up of sectarian and separatist violence across the country, Mr Wahid embarked on a series of long trips abroad, seeming to ignore problems back home.

His style of leadership soon appeared erratic and unfocused and in particular without any emphasis on the critical issue of economic recovery.


But perhaps his most controversial move was the sacking of two senior ministers from the cabinet without any proper explanation, a distinctly undemocratic move.

President Wahid mural
President Wahid has so far failed to deliver
This also exposed the weakness of his coalition government as the main parties on whose support he depends began to turn against him.

Mr Wahid's own party only controls about 10% of the seats in the People's Consultative Assembly and this is what makes him so vulnerable during this Assembly session.

There is now a large bloc of politicians from several different parties who may be tempted to try to push him out of power.

Ethnic conflict

One of the most important issues is the sectarian violence afflicting several parts of the country, in particular the conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities in the Moluccas or Spice Islands in Eastern Indonesia which has now claimed thousands of lives.

When the fighting flared up, within two months of President Wahid's election, the government did nothing except to call on the people to solve their own problems.

Aceh demonstrations
Aceh separatists have stepped up pressure on Jakarta
This enraged both the Christian and Muslim communities across the country, especially as the sectarian violence spread to other regions, in particular to Sulawesi.

Militant Islamic groups decided to take matters into their own hands launching a Jihad or 'Holy War'.

Several thousand Muslim fighters travelled to the Moluccan Islands, sparking a new wave of violence there which continues.

Indonesian soldiers
The army has failed to control the violence in the Moluccas
The virtual state of war in the Moluccas has prompted calls for international intervention, particularly from the Christian community, a small minority in Indonesia which is otherwise an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

So far the government has resisted this, knowing it would be a massive humiliation, particularly after the international military intervention in East Timor last year.

But the calls are growing ever louder. Even Indonesia's own Human Rights Commission now says an international peace keeping force may be the only answer.


The fear of Indonesia disintegrating has haunted the country ever since the fall of former President Suharto.

He used the military to suppress any separatist movements.

When former President Suharto left office, national disintegration loomed
But the new more liberal era ushered in by his successor President Habibie and now under President Wahid has loosened Jakarta's hold over the provinces, and independence movements in Aceh and Irian Jaya have been spurred on by the example of East Timor, which broke away from Indonesian rule last year.

But this is the one area where the new government does seem to have realised the gravity of the situation and taken action.

Firstly, President Wahid made sure the international community did not support the separatist movements.

His government then negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels in Aceh.

Irian leaders

But progress in Aceh has not been matched in Irian Jaya.

Separatist leaders there organised a congress, ironically with the government's blessing, which brought together representatives from across the province.

It concluded with what was in effect a declaration of independence, although since then, little has happened.

The government still hopes a regional autonomy law will defuse the demands for independence, in particular, as resource-rich provinces such as Irian Jaya will, for the first time, be able to keep much of the revenue from their mining and other industries.

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See also:

21 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid apologises for sacking row
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian president snubs MPs
03 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian MPs face police probe
24 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Police quiz Wahid over scandal
25 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid's masseur 'flees with $4.2m'
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian bank chief set for trial
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