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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

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Page 2


Indonesia's Elections: History in the Making Decision '99 Only a slow vote can spoil Indonesia's free and triumphant elections

The Parallel View Flashback to the 1955 ballot

'I will be the one. Why not?' Abdurrahman Wahid wants to be president

Democracy Meets Anarchy A political tussle stirs trouble in Central Java

The Election That Wasn't Most in Aceh were too frightened to vote

Money Talked, But How Loudly? Accusations fly that Golkar and others misused funds to woo voters
ECONOMIC MATTERS have indeed loomed large in these elections. Asia's Crisis has hit Indonesia harder than most, leaving millions of its citizens struggling with debt, poverty and malnutrition. Recent macroeconomic indicators suggest that conditions in Indonesia are starting to improve - the rupiah has strengthened and interest rates have been falling - but this has yet to better the livelihood of ordinary citizens in any meaningful way. When asked about the key factor in the elections, Kuraisin replies: "Rice." Clearly, the economy must be at the top of the agenda of any future president.

But at the same time, the elections have been operating along a more abstract level. The polls are equally about two contending historical legacies: the New Order of Suharto and the Old Order of his predecessor Sukarno. The former is represented by Golkar and its presidential candidate Habibie, a protÈgÈ of Suharto. The spirit of the latter lives on in Sukarno's daughter Megawati and her PDI-P. The current contest pits 30 years of development and stability under Suharto against the almost mystical nationalism of Indonesia's founding president. The final outcome of the polls may well hinge on the ability of these old allegiances to tug at voters' hearts.

After all the results are in, then what? Should Golkar do the unexpected and pull off a victory, there are likely to be accusations of election fraud. At best, the results will be questioned and the entire elections discredited. At worst, opponents of Golkar will refuse to honor the result and trigger a nationwide political crisis.

A victory by the PDI-P does not guarantee peace either. For one thing, Golkar may decide that it cannot accept the outcome. For another, the powerful military may intervene, though the betting in Jakarta now is that it will learn to live with a new master. Then there are those who wonder if Megawati has the right credentials to successfully deal with the challenges lying ahead. On the economic front, she has promised to pursue a free market devoid of monopolies and special treatment for conglomerates. But the fact remains that the PDI-P is still figuring out how to make its Sukarno-era nationalism work in a globalized economy.

In addition, Megawati has always had an uncomfortable relationship with political Islam, not only because conservative Muslims feel a woman should not assume a leadership role, but because non-Muslims figure prominently in her party (over half of her candidates for parliament are non-Muslims). A PDI-P victory and the subsequent domination of parliament by non-Muslims could well fuel inter-religious tensions. And then there is the question of restive provinces. Following her father, Megawati opposes independence for provinces or even the idea of Indonesia as a federation of autonomous regions. Yet that kind of conservative stance could in-flame separatist sentiments in Aceh, East Timor and Irian Jaya.

The possible dark clouds ahead, however, have not stopped Indonesians from basking in the glow of what South Jakarta neighborhood leader Marsum calls "a democracy party." For now, Indonesia is experiencing a victory of hope over cynicism and is exhibiting a level of political maturation that belies the view that Indonesians are too poor and too uneducated to have democracy. In view of the developments of the past few weeks, it can truly be said that this is their moment.

-With reporting by Tom McCawley/West Java, Dewi Loveard/Central Java and Yenni Kwok/Central Kalimantan


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