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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK


Profile: Abdurrahman Wahid




[ image:  ]
Abudarraham Wahid, elected Indonesia's fourth president, has taken office after months of prevarication over whether he would actually stand.

The election of the influential Muslim cleric came as a shock to many after Megawati Sukarnoputri's PDI-P party had emerged as the winner of Indonesia's elections in June.


The BBC's Wahid Javed: "A wylie political character"
Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is also known, is one of the most well known figures in Indonesia.

Educated in Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and Canada, the frail 59-year-old has long had a reputation for religious tolerance and moderate politics.

Indonesia Flashpoints
Nearly blind, he has suffered two strokes in recent years and had to be helped to the ballot box in the national assembly.

Wahid heads Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, which draws its support of at least 30 million members from Muslims in the rural areas of Java, Indonesia's main island.

But that position as a moral leader was transformed when he and his supporters formed the National Awakening Party, PKB, following the dramatic fall of President Suharto.

Opposition to Islamisation

While NU is a conservative religious organization, Wahid has consistently maintained that faith is a personal matter.

In the unrest surrounding the fall of Suharto, some politicians made increasingly vocal calls for Islam to have an institutionalised role in the state.


[ image: Frail: A question mark hangs over Wahid's health]
Frail: A question mark hangs over Wahid's health
But such a move, Wahid believes, could spell the end of Indonesia, already troubled by ethic separatism and inter-religious tension.

"If the new parties want Islam to be a moral or educational force in politics, that's ok", he recently said, "but if they want to tinker with the laws of this country, then we must resist that".

His stance has brought him criticism from Islamic circles but earned him the respect of many non-Muslims throughout Indonesia, including the vast democracy's Christians and ethnic Chinese who he described as vital for the national economy.

Perhaps more significantly, he has taken office after having forged links with the nation's highly influential military elite through his joint work with the head of the armed forces General Wiranto to ease ethnic tensions.

As the election drew closer, he told the Wall Street Journal: "If my party gains power, we will calm Indonesia."

Ties with Megawati


[ image: Rivals: Rais and Wahid teamed up during election]
Rivals: Rais and Wahid teamed up during election
Wahid has had previous close ties with Megawati. In the run-up to the poll in the summer, she considered him one of her key allies, a man who could potentially deliver a huge Muslim following but who would be content to follow secular policies.

During the campaign, he, Megawati and Amien Rais, Wahid's rival Muslim leader, brought their parties together in the name of safeguarding the reform and democracy process.

But the joint front did not last, and Wahid later argued that a female president would offend conservative Muslims.

Their friendship soured further as Wahid came to regard Megawati as arrogant and unable to work with other politicians as they sought to form a new government.

Economically, Wahid pledged during campaigning to implement reforms which the International Monetary Fund says are vital for the battered economy of 17,000 islands.

Suharto talks

Wahid's most controversial moves in recent years have all been linked to the Suharto clan. In 1997, he campaigned with the former president's daughter during parliamentary elections.

More recently, his conciliatory gestures towards the deposed President Suharto have angered those who supported "reformasi".

Some of his own NU members regarded his attempts to involve the former president in a national reconciliation dialogue as unhelpful towards the reformist camp when the opposition had been trying to pressure President Habibie to properly investigate Suharto era.

Despite this, his appeal within NU is undiminished, and many Indonesians backed the PKB because he appeared the champion against the Islamist camp.



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Indonesia's 1999 elections - The Asia Society


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In this section

Profile: Abdurrahman Wahid

BJ Habibie: Suharto's successor

Megawati: Advocate of Indonesian unity

Profile: General Wiranto

Amien Rais - National Mandate Party (PAN)