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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Indonesia crisis: Jonathan Head quizzed

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Indonesia's new President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is moving to take control of the presidency, despite the refusal of her impeached predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid to step aside.

Megawati said she would form a cabinet within days, ignoring Mr Wahid's refusal to leave the presidential palace.

Indonesia is a huge country with a population of about 225 million people. It is riven with ethnic and religious divisions and its economy is faltering.

Will changing the president solve the country's problems, and does she have enough support? Can Megawati resolve the nation's troubles?

The BBC's Jonathan Head joined us live from Jakarta and answered a selection of your questions.

Highlights of interview:


The fall of former President Wahid has been a long and drawn out process. What is the feeling amongst Indonesians today - is there relief?

Jonathan Head:

I think that really sums it up. It is relief and that probably applies even to Mr Wahid's own supporters. There were of course enormous predictions of large scale violence because his supporters had so passionately opposed the process which unseated him. There had indeed been a lot of clashes and quite violent protests earlier in the year. But I think by the time it happened, it had been drawn out for so long that even they could see very little point in protesting.

This transition has been so much more peaceful than previous transitions - even more peaceful than Mr Wahid's own election to office 21 months ago. I think you really sense that Indonesians understand that they are not going to get their own perfect choice as president and that they desperately want to see some kind of stability and some kind of consistency in the presidency. Certainly President Wahid, even those who supported him recognise, was very erratic in his judgements and even those who believed in him recognised that he failed to get enough people on his side to sustain his presidency and there was an air of real inevitability about this change of president.


The first e-mail is from Kevin Hay in Jakarta who asks: Given the opposition between Wahid and Dr Amien Rais, Chairman of the Indonesian National Assembly, do you think there is any likelihood of violent conflict now between the two Muslim groups NU and Muhammadiya?

Jonathan Head:

It is interesting that he has picked on that. I have travelled quite extensively in East Java and that is there the one fault line which has still not properly been resolved in Indonesia. There is no love lost between these two figures, Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid. It was a tactical accommodation between the two of them because of Amien Rais's opposition to Megawati that allowed Mr Wahid to win the presidency back in 1999 with the backing of Amien Rais but they are very different personalities. They both lead the two largest Muslim organisations here with very different ideologies and approaches. Mr Wahid has made no secret of his dislike of Amien Rais for many years now, who he fears is an ambitious man with a much more fundamentalist agenda.

In East Java, most of the attacks by Mr Wahid's supporters have been on offices related to Mr Rais's former organisation, Muhammadiya. When we talk to them, they say this is their great dislike. It is a long-standing rivalry that goes back many decades about what form of Islam should be predominant in Indonesia: a modernist form with a potential of being rather more fundamentalist or a traditionalist form that absorbs lots of Javanese traditions. That rivalry could still erupt in some kind of violence but if it happens the chances are it would be contained in East Java - it wouldn't spread to the rest of the country where these divisions are not so keenly felt and I don't think it is an issue that preoccupies politicians today in the capital Jakarta.


Now the relationship between Megawati and Amien Rais is quite different obviously. We have a question from Jose Fernandez, Netherlands, who asks: If it comes to power struggle between Megawati and Rais, who do you think will Golkar (the former ruling party) will support and why?

Jonathan Head:

For the moment it is certainly clear that Golkar would support Megawati. It is a matter of pragmatism. She is the clear front runner, she is the constitutional successor to Mr Wahid, she has the largest block of seats in the parliament and ideologically people in Golkar would feel more comfortable with her secular pragmatic approach. I think Mr Rais at the moment is a long way away from the presidency and he recognises that. Indeed there are those who say that Amien Rais's determination to push for Megawati to replace the former president, Abdurrahman Wahid, is based on his calculation things are so difficult in Indonesia now, he wants to see Megawati fail during this presidential term that runs until the year 2004. That he hopes will give him a chance - a shot at the presidency.

But they are two very different kinds of leaders - radically different and I don't think they are really competing for the same kind of position in Indonesia. For all Dr Rais's enormous ambition he is a parliamentarian, an intellectual, a great negotiator but not a man who naturally inspires people and gets people passionately behind him.

Megawati is not an intellectual, does not have much of a grasp for policy but is able to communicate with the ordinary people of Indonesia and does have this enormous affection based on her father's reputation as the founding president. I think with that, bearing in mind those very two different personalities, Dr Rais has a much tougher job presenting himself as a real alternative as a leader of this country. Although there is no doubt in all the manoeuvrings he has been involved in, he clearly does have his eye eventually on the presidency.


Ajit, Chennai, India Is it true that Megawati is a passive onlooker and cannot take concrete steps? Do you think the military will manipulate her and that she will be a mere puppet?

Jonathan Head:

It is certainly true that she lacks a grasp of policy, she often lacks confidence and an ability to be decisive at very important moments. She has shown those failings and those weaknesses as a leader for many years now and that is a great concern. The concern is that she will not feel confident enough to make choices between the competing pressures for different kinds of policy alternatives or indeed have the confidence to push through reform agendas that go against entrenched interests who may be well represented in the parliament or even in her own party. Megawati, although she does tend to be quite firm when she decides on a policy decision, those tend to be matters of principle that she is familiar with - like her adherence to the constitution, her concern for the poor of Indonesia, her belief in the unity of the country. But on detailed policy she may feel a lot less confident.

There is no doubt that the military has done very well out of this transition. It has played its cards very well indeed - its reputation was very tarnished at the beginning of the Wahid administration. But it has managed to play a neutral role and avoid being used by either side and managed to restore a lot of its credibility over the past few months by maintaining order during this very difficult transition. There are key military figures who have political ambitions and may indeed be strong candidates for the vice-presidency. Megawati herself has made it clear that she is very comfortable with the military - she has said she will back the kind of policies they adopt in troubled areas where there are a lot of separatism. That does not necessarily mean that she will be manipulated by them as a puppet. She does have the opportunity to appoint her own people who are loyal to her but respected in the military to give herself quite a clear influence over the military.

The military itself is also divided - like most other institutions in Indonesia - and will probably be very grateful for consistency and strength of leadership which Megawati may be able to show them. Certainly she is likely to make them feel a lot more comfortable about their own role in holding the country together and their relationship is likely to be a much happier one than the one between Mr Wahid and the military.

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24 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati moves to form government

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