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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

NOVEMBER 5, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 44

The Fight for Megawati
Behind the scenes of the v.p. election
By DEWI LOVEARD Jakarta

It was 5 p.m. on Oct. 20. Abdurrahman Wahid, elected president of Indonesia by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) just hours earlier, was headed to his temporary lodgings at the State Guest House when he changed course for the home of his defeated rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri. There, Wahid told her he wanted her to be vice president. Megawati was reluctant. She had been stunned by her loss in the presidential race, and had felt betrayed by her longtime friend Wahid. She told him she would feel humiliated to run for the No. 2 spot. And, she added, imagine the anger of her followers - already rioting over her defeat - if she lost the vote for v.p. as well.

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Around 10 p.m., after Wahid's inauguration, Megawati met the top aides in her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). She explained her reluctance to run for v.p. As they talked, news trickled in. The home of a relative of MPR chairman Amien Rais had been burned by PDI-P supporters. The former ruling party, Golkar, was leaning toward nominating its chairman Akbar Tandjung for v.p. Wahid's National Awakening Party (PKB) would nominate Megawati. Her aides went to see PKB deputy leader Alwi Shihab. Was he serious? Shihab answered, not only was PKB serious, it would lobby its allies in the Center Axis group of Muslim-oriented parties.

Meanwhile, Golkar met late into the night. The party was split between supporters of Tandjung and of armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto, mostly loyalists of former president B.J. Habibie. Tandjung carried a 3 a.m. vote, but senior member Marwah Daud Ibrahim bolted. Gathering allies, she joined forces with a faction of minor Islamic parties to nominate Wiranto.

As the new day dawned, Tandjung went to see Wahid at the State Guest House, and was surprised to see Wiranto there as well. The president said he was concerned about the popular reaction if Megawati did not get the vice presidency. Akbar and Wiranto had little choice but to withdraw from the race. Some extra political hardball perhaps helped their decisions. Tandjung was told that if he ran, PDI-P would throw its weight behind Wiranto. And Wiranto may have been disturbed when Wahid, as if in jest, dropped the names of two of the general's main rivals in the military's internal politics.

At 10:30 a.m., the MPR was scheduled to elect the vice president, but assembly chairman and Center Axis architect Rais delayed the vote until mid-afternoon. At 11 a.m., Wahid again met Megawati. He told her that Tandjung and Wiranto would pull out, while Hamzah Haz of the Muslim-based United Development Party was running to please his supporters and promote competition. After Wahid left, prominent businesswoman Siti Hartati Murdaya told her she would be unwise to refuse. The economy would never recover if the rioting continued. Megawati saw that her path was set.

At 6 p.m. on Oct. 21, the MPR voted to name Megawati vice president, calming the streets and cheering the financial markets. "This was a very beautiful game," said MPR chairman Rais. "It will make me able to sleep well tonight." No doubt he needed it.

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