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APRIL 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 15 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Rocks In The Road
The leaders are still acting like oppositionists
By JOSE MANUEL TESORO Jakarta

In the 12 months ending March 1998, the value of Indonesia's exports to Africa and Latin America totaled some $1.6 billion, or about 3% of the total value of the country's '97-'98 exports. That same year, Indonesia exported more to the Netherlands than to the 85 independent states of Africa and Latin America. So trade did not inspire President Abdurrahman Wahid's latest whirlwind foreign tour, which began April 7. The nine-day jaunt takes him to South Africa, Mexico, Cuba and Hong Kong (with a stopover in Japan to meet its new prime minister, Mori Yoshiro). Wahid seems to be pursuing the dreams he has long nourished as an oppositionist: for Indonesia, democracy and political reconciliation at home, and a role among like-minded nations in the wider world. In Pretoria, he discussed South Africa's truth-and-reconciliation commission. And in Havana, he is attending the G77 summit of developing countries.

Taming the military and cooling sectarian and separatist sentiment have been the main achievements of the nearly six-month-old administration of Wahid and his vice president Megawati Sukarnoputri. But an embarrassing failure to meet International Monetary Fund deadlines and, now, an unseemly split in Megawati's party -- the largest in Indonesia's governing coalition -- have rubbed some shine off the duo's luster. On April 9, Cabinet Secretary Marsillam Simanjuntak announced that $400 million of the International Monetary Fund's $5-billion, three-year support program -- delayed because Jakarta had failed to deliver on 108 items from its January letter of intent by a March 31 deadline -- would indeed come through this month. But to secure the commitment, the government had to scramble. Wahid's contribution had been to ban ministers from overseas travel -- days before he himself left for South Africa.

Meanwhile, the April 3 close of the party congress of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in the Central Java city of Semarang provoked widespread disappointment. The day before, the party had re-elected Megawati by acclamation, deliberately shutting out contenders such as party stalwarts Eros Djarot and Dimyati Hartono. "How can a party claim to be democratic when it works in an undemocratic way?" fumed former deputy chairman Sutarjo Suryoguritno.

Confusion in government policy, drift in party politics. What is happening to Wahid and Megawati? The likely explanation is that their weaknesses as leaders, glossed over when both were in the opposition, have been magnified in their ascension to the government. Wahid has always fought his own political battles. But there is growing concern whether they are always appropriate. Last week, he suggested revoking a 1966 ban on communism, a move that sent thousands of Muslim activists into the streets in protest. They regard communism as atheistic and linked to zionism.

Moreover, south of Jakarta, a group calling themselves the Jihad Army set up a training camp for Muslim youths intending to go to the religious strife-ridden capital of Maluku province, Ambon. Leaders of the group say some 10,000 volunteers would go to Ambon. On April 6 the Jihad Army marched to the presidential palace carrying swords and machetes, protesting a comment by Wahid that one of the roots of the conflict was "special treatment" for Ambonese Muslims by the previous government. Since a visit to Ambon by Megawati, the conflict between Muslims and Christians has been left to fester, and remains a hot-button issue easily pressed by Wahid's Islamist critics. The revocation of the ban on communism and the concern of Maluku could haunt Wahid in August, when he is scheduled to present an accountability of his term to the People's Consultative Assembly. Warned parliamentary speaker Akbar Tanjung: "[Wahid's] government may face a sort of impeachment by the people if social unrest continues to escalate."

As for Megawati, while her party's future was being decided, she took off from the PDI-P congress, leaving unresolved a festering dispute in the party between her husband, Taufik Kiemas, and her chief strategist, Djarot. Publisher and filmmaker Djarot had largely crafted Megawati's image as both martyr and mother figure, which helped secure her party its 33.8% share of the popular vote in last June's parliamentary election. The party's leading intellectuals, such as current state-owned enterprises minister Laksamana Sukardi and chief economics minister Kwik Kian Gie, were counted among his allies. Early this year, Djarot launched a campaign to replace Megawati as party chief. "I want to put the party on the right track," says Djarot, who feels democracy itself is fading from the party.

But Djarot's role behind the scenes could not but seem a challenge to Kiemas and his influence over Megawati and the party. The businessman and former youth activist's effectiveness in the party lies not in strategy or spin but in his mastery of traditional politics. Kiemas looks after his people, who pack the rank and file of the party hierarchy. Eddy Siswanto, for example, regularly gets cigarettes and transport money from Kiemas's own pocket. "He knows we need help to live," says the East Jakarta party branch leader.

At the congress, Kiemas's people successfully blocked Djarot's challenge. Thus the PDI-P's new executive board contains none of the party's recognized luminaries, except for Kwik. Most PDI-P members believe the board was chosen for loyalty rather than for potential to turn the party into a more professional organization. Former treasurer Suwondo puts the problem baldly. "It is as if Kiemas is the party leader rather than Megawati." Kiemas denies he has any role in the apparent divisions. 'I just want to look after people who are faithful to the party." Yet the aloof Megawati's leadership of the PDI-P has left it almost solely in the hands of her husband.

The new government, for its part, may just have too much to do. Now that the former oppositionists are also cabinet ministers, developing a healthy party system is the least of their priorities. But with another People's Consultative Assembly meeting scheduled in four months' time to hear Wahid's accountability speech for his first ten months in office, party maneuvering is already re-emerging. The current environment requires both skillful party politicking and experienced state management. Neither Wahid, Megawati nor their aides seem very equipped to handle either. Admits Muhaimin Iskandar, secretary-general of Wahid's National Awakening Party: "We are playing by trial and error."

They had all better learn fast. On April 9 Wahid threatened a shake-up of the cabinet (after weeks of official denials) in a characteristic fashion. In Pretoria, he announced that he would seek the resignations of three ministers being "investigated for corruption." A change in the cabinet might ndeed breathe new spirit into Wahid's government. But if you listen closely, you can already hear the sound of expectations crashing.
With additional reporting by Dewi Loveard/Semarang, Central Java

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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