Indonesia turns attention to crucial vice presidential vote
Wahid invokes Sukarno in service of unity
October 20, 1999
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesia's parliament prepared for a crucial vice-presidential vote on Thursday, one day after Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid was sworn in as the first freely elected president in the archipelago nation's history.
The capital Jakarta was calm early Thursday after a night of violence by angry supporters of opposition figurehead Megawati Sukarnoputri, the surprise loser in Wednesday's tumultuous contest.
Normally little more than a ceremonial post, the vice presidency has taken on a new importance following Wahid's victory. The 59-year-old half-blind leader has suffered at least two strokes in recent years.
Wahid's Nation Awakening Party has expressed interest in Megawati for the post.
"Megawati is definitely one of our choices but up until now we haven't made a final decision yet," senior party official Khofifah Indar said Thursday.
There has been no confirmation from Megawati whether she would accept a nomination for the vice presidency, or remain in the opposition.
The vice-presidential candidates -- who could also include armed forces chief General Wiranto and the head of the former ruling Golkar party Akbar Tandjung -- were expected to be named at around 10.30 a.m. (12:30 a.m EDT).
In his inaugural address on Wednesday, Wahid appealed for unity. To underscore his message, the Muslim cleric quoted Megawati's father, Sukarno.
"Just as our founding president, Sukarno, taught us, we have great reasons to be a unified nation," Wahid said. "This is something that we must continue to follow today."
Wahid -- better known by the nickname Gus Dur, meaning "teacher of his people" -- stressed his "deepest appreciation" to his "good friend" Megawati, who had been the popular favorite to win Wednesday's vote to replace B.J. Habibie as president.
"Democracy can only be cultivated by people who understand about the principles and foundations of democracy," Wahid said.
Indonesia's new president pledged to push for better international trade and political relations, but said such relations could not come at the expense of his nation's dignity.
"Good international relations among all countries must continue to be based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual appreciation," Wahid said. "We still cannot find it acceptable that judgment be passed by other countries on our country."
Wahid drew applause from the 700-member assembly when he stressed his commitment to "the unity and territorial integrity of our nation ... in front of other countries who are frequently insensitive to the dignity of our peoples."
Wahid's remarks appeared aimed at many Indonesians who were angry with Habibie's policies relating to East Timor, which voted for independence after 23 years under Indonesian rule. Opponents of Habibie's policies feared East Timor's vote would lead to a further dissolution of Indonesia.
Habibie became president 16 months ago when long-time dictator Suharto resigned amid a barrage of personal and political scandals and devastating riots.
Wahid victory fuels Jakarta riots
News of Wahid's legislative win sparked violence in the streets of Jakarta, where tens of thousands of Megawati supporters had gathered to cheer their candidate to victory.
Three explosions rocked the city -- one just ahead of the vote -- injuring more than 20 people. Two people were killed in the second explosion, a car bomb that went off just outside the parliament building.
Demonstrators clashed with police and burned vehicles and toll booths during a march to the parliament building. Met by riot forces outside the swearing-in ceremony, the rioters stood face-to-face with the troops, who used tear gas and warning shots to control the crowd.
Wahid outmaneuvered Megawati to gain the support of a simple majority of Indonesia's 700 legislators after Habibie withdrew from the race. Earlier Wednesday, the legislators narrowly rejected Habibie's assessment of his 16-month-long administration's successes and failures.
Habibie's Golkar Party first announced it would back party chairman Akbar Tanjung for the presidency, but quickly withdrew his candidacy as well.
Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) captured more seats in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) than any other party, but the majority was not enough to secure her election to the presidency.
Wahid's victory was assured minutes before the vote when 11th-hour candidate Yusril Mahendra withdrew and threw his support behind Wahid.
Wahid took 373 votes in the assembly to Megawati's 313. The two appeared together after the vote, appealing for calm and unity.
"Together with Megawati, I celebrate our independence and freedom," said Wahid, his hand clasped in that of his political rival.
"For the unity of the nation, I call on the people of Indonesia to accept the results of the election," Megawati said in parliament after she joined Wahid and hundreds of other legislators in singing Indonesia's national anthem.
Vice-presidential vote next
A few hours after the vote, the frail Wahid stood before a bank of microphones to take the oath swearing to uphold Indonesia's constitution.
"As the elected president of this republic ... I shall undertake all responsibilities, all my constitutional responsibilities, including the swearing of the oath in accordance with my religion of Islam," the cleric said after being aided to the microphone for the historic ceremony.
Wahid's ill health -- he suffered a stroke a year and a half ago which robbed him of some of his sight and left him in poor health -- has caused concern in some quarters, lending importance to Thursday's selection of a vice president.
On Wednesday, there was speculation that Megawati could become a candidate for the post when nominations are offered. Tanjung and armed forces chief General Wiranto were also considered possible nominees.
A military spokesman said the general would accept the nomination if asked by all of Indonesia's political parties. Earlier, Wiranto rejected an offer to be Habibie's running mate.
Habibie withdraws from Indonesia's presidential race
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