• Thu
  • Aug 28, 2014
  • Updated: 11:40am

New era, old problems

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 12:00am

Abdurrahman Wahid's downfall as president of Indonesia was one of the year's most predicted events. The question now is whether his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has anything better to offer the country's long-suffering people.


She faces a daunting set of challenges. She has the immediate problem of persuading her predecessor to vacate the presidential palace. In the interests of Indonesia, Mr Wahid should now retire gracefully and ensure that his supporters do not take to the streets.


The new President inherits a nation torn by ethnic violence and separatism. Indonesia's economy is in tatters. She also needs to shore up its badly bruised democratic institutions.


In her acceptance speech, she clearly recognised the problems she needed to solve. Her calls for unity, as well as her desire to restore Indonesia's 'life and dignity as a nation' will clearly strike a chord among ordinary people. But the new President has yet to offer any clues on how she intends to tackle these issues. During her 21 months as vice-president, she was famously taciturn when it came to revealing her solutions to Indonesia's problems.


One obvious difference between her and Mr Wahid will be over the separatist movements tugging away at Indonesia's fabric. Mr Wahid was conciliatory towards these movements. Ms Megawati, as the daughter of Sukarno, the father of the modern Indonesian state, is much less likely to be tolerant of those who wish to break away. The Indonesian people will be watching to see what recipe she has to persuade people in places like Aceh that their future lies in remaining part of Indonesia.


The rest of the region, too, has a stake in ensuring stability in the world's fourth-most-populous nation. Instability in Indonesia would send ripples through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


Ms Megawati has the advantage over her predecessor of stronger parliamentary support. But this could prove illusory - although her party is the single largest in Parliament, it does not have a majority.


Indonesia's future will depend a great deal on the calibre of her advisers and ministers, who are expected to be named within the next few days. It will also depend on the support she receives from the all-powerful military. Ms Megawati could not have become President without the backing of the military and police. The flip side of this is that she cannot afford to take any radical measures that would alienate the armed forces.


More than anything else, Indonesia requires a rest from the continuous political uncertainty that has plagued it for almost a year now. This is something that the solidly reassuring Ms Megawati can do. But whether she will be able to do more than this and tackle Indonesia's deep-rooted problems remains to be seen.


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