Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Islam and the Middle East in the Far East: "Gus Dur" Wins in Cliffhanger Indonesian Presidential Vote; Megawati Sukarnoputri Is Vice President

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Islam and the Middle East in the Far East: "Gus Dur" Wins in Cliffhanger Indonesian Presidential Vote; Megawati Sukarnoputri Is Vice President

Article excerpt

ISLAM AND THE MIDDLE EAST IN THE FAR EAST: "Gus Dur" Wins in Cliffhanger Indonesian Presidential Vote; Megawati Sukarnoputri Is Vice President

The ballot papers were opened one by one and each vote was marked up on a board: "Megawati"; "Abdurrahman Wahid"; "Megawati." Megawati led at first, then the contest became neck-and-neck. But, finally, Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, pulled ahead of Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president, the late Ahmed Sukarno, to become Indonesia's fourth president. The vote was 373 for the victor and 313 for Megawati.

The campaign for the presidency had so many twists and turns that few commentators had dared to predict its outcome. In June, Megawati's PDI(P) (Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle) won over 34 percent of the popular vote and 153 of the 462 seats at stake in the lndonesian parliamentary election. Two Muslim parties with which the PDI(P) had a loose alliance -- Gus Dur's National Awakening Party (PKB) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) -- won 51 and 35 seats respectively.

It appeared, therefore, that the presidential election by members of the country's new parliament would be a contest between the incumbent, B.J. Habibie, from the scandal-scarred Golkar party, and Megawati.

With a majority of the elected members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) behind Megawati, speculation focused on the possibility that Habibie might yet win by marshalling votes from the 38 military nominees and 200 parliament members representing "functional groups" and Indonesian regions who were not popularly elected.

Between June and October, Habibie's electoral prospects deteriorated. Golkar, his party, stood by him as its candidate, but some leading figures openly spoke of alternatives. As voting day came close, Habibie was hit by a series of hammer blows.

The Bank Bali corruption scandal, involving members of his party, exploded; the referendum in East Timor, which Habibie had proposed, went decisively in favor of independence from Indonesia; and the dropping of the corruption case against discredited former President Suharto, supposedly because of lack of evidence, was an unpopular move.

Another blow came after Habibie named the army chief, General Wiranto, as his vice-presidential running mate, only to have Wiranto reject the nomination two days before the Oct. 20 MPR vote. The general was believed to command 96 votes.

The final blow came early on Oct. 20, when the MPR rejected by 355 votes to 322 Habibie's report on his 17 months in office. Bowing to the inevitable, Habibie pulled out of the presidential race, leaving members of his party to choose which of his rivals they would support.

Habibie's losses were not necessarily Megawati's gains. For months, she rested on her laurels, as if the president's office was now hers by right and all she needed to do was wait. Her PDI(P) was frequently outmaneuvered in the struggle to secure provincial representatives by more politically experienced Golkar activists, who proved better at building alliances with other parties.

Megawati did little to cultivate support among the Muslim parties, which proved to be the main cause of her undoing. Both Gus Dur's PKB and PAN decided to cooperate with an 84-seat alliance of seven Muslim parties, dominated by the United Development Party (PPP), formerly seen as loyal supporters of ex-President Suharto. This new Central Axis bloc brought together 170 elected MPR members.

Although the PKB's official position was one of support for Megawati's presidential bid, its frail, ailing leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, accepted on Oct. 7 the nomination of seven other Muslim parties to stand for the presidency. Widely respected, he was a formidable candidate, but there were rumors that he was only standing as a tactical move to rally the votes of the Central Axis parties, which he would then seek to commit to Megawati when he withdrew at the 11th hour. …

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