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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'Suharto Is So Defeated'

But Muslim leader Gus Dur wants to go slow


ABDURRAHMAN WAHID, 57, IS the voice of the 30-million-member Nahdlatul Ulama, a Muslim organization with its roots in the green fields of Java. He is also the voice of restraint, advising Indonesians not to rush the process of change. Wahid, also known as Gus Dur, was one of nine Muslim leaders who met President Suharto May 19 before he proposed the formation of a council to prepare for new elections. The next day, as the parliament was calling for a special session to unseat Suharto, Asiaweek's Jose Manuel Tesoro spoke to Wahid at his home outside Jakarta.

The momentum to get rid of President Suharto immediately seems irresistible. There appears to be no patience for Suharto's proposal for new elections.

Change now means that there will be no proper way to transfer power. The president proposed something that would take place in four to six months. That means the fielding of candidates, the campaign, then the election itself, and after that a wait of one month. That means, all in all, six months for the people to have a new parliament.

But why wait?

Up to now there is no feasible leader. Who? [Former cabinet minister and presidential critic] Emil Salim? Or [retired general] Hasnan Habib? Or [former Jakarta governor] Ali Sadikin? Or who? We don't know.

There is some doubt that Suharto would sincerely carry out his proposal.

I also disbelieve that he in his own capacity will make an allowance for an election. But we can force him, we can ask him to make an election.

What was your impression of Suharto when you met on May 19?

I was surprised to find that he already buckles. When I went there, I expected to find him in a hard spirit, fighting against everybody. But no, when I went there, he was so defeated.

Is six months enough to put together proper parties?

There are many well-organized mass movements. Political parties are not being used in democratic ways. But non-governmental organizations have still maintained this tradition.

The political temperature seems so high. What will bring it down to the point that gradual change is possible?

A sober realization that we cannot eat with only high temperatures.

Do Indonesians want Suharto to step down now or after a certain process?

Well, he should go. We know it. But when? One month, two months, three months from now? Gradually, he will be gone. That's what the majority of the population wants.

What is the role of Islam in the political transition?

Islam's role is the establishment of a just government, of a government equalizing citizens regardless of their religious or racial origins.

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