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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

'I WILL BE THE ONE. WHY NOT?'

Abdurrahman Wahid wants to be president


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
WHATEVER THE FINAL outcome of the elections, people like the powerful Islamic leader Abdurrahman Wahid will have a big say in Indonesia's new political landscape, particularly when it comes to determining who will be president. The 59-year-old Wahid has suffered a stroke and is nearly blind, but he campaigned vigorously for his National Awakening Party (PKB by its Indonesian initials) - and for himself. While Wahid is in the opposition camp, he defies easy categorization, as is evident in this pre-polls interview with Reporter Tom McCawley.

After the new legislature is convened, whom should it choose as president?

I will be operated on, and the doctors are confident that I will recover. If I can see, and I fulfill the requirements, I will be the one. Why not?

What about Megawati?

If I don't recover, I will support Ibu Mega. But please understand that there's no guarantee I can make her president. Within the PKB, many people, especially the kyai [Islamic preachers] still think that women cannot be leaders, cannot be president. It is a matter of education. In that case, I think the Sultan of Jogjakarta will have the edge.

Can an opposition coalition against Golkar last?

What we have now is just a joint communiqe, a common front, not a coalition, not yet. After the elections, we will see whether we can have a coalition or not.

On the one hand you say you're against the status quo. On the other, you say Indonesians should forgive Suharto. What do you mean?

Forgiving means that we change the government. Forgiving means that we treat Suharto in a different way. Not trying to preserve his type of government, no, that's already past.

Would you put Suharto on trial?

Oh yes, of course. We will decide whether he is wrong or not, guilty or not. If not, we will say he is not guilty and we will forgive him. But if he is found guilty then he will be sentenced, and maybe also forgiven. The most important thing is that to forgive does not mean we don't have to punish him. Forgiveness is not what Western people think it is. Forgiving does not mean a pardon for everything.

Before Suharto fell last year, you once appeared with his daughter, Tutut, at a public function.

Though I was fighting the regime, I had to show solidarity in order to survive. It doesn't mean that I am one of them.

Is that why you have continued to meet Suharto even after he has left office?

Oh yes! It's because he is still important, and because so many people are influenced by his actions. I am afraid that these people will create disturbances. I try to convince him not to do that, not to allow people to do that.

What is the biggest danger to a free and fair election?

What do you mean by free and fair? [Speaking sarcastically] If you are satisfied that the majority who are fools and illiterate will decide the nation's fate, it is fair, it is democracy. If you think only those eggheads [intellectual critics of Wahid] can decide the nation's fate, that is not democracy, not a fair election. It is up to your definition. The [intellectual critics] think only they should [decide].

Are money politics and vote-buying big issues?

I know the people. They will just take the money and vote for who they want. [Laughs]

What is your economic agenda?

One principle is profit motive. Without profit motive there's nothing. Then free trade. Otherwise we will be like North Korea. So the basics will not change. Suharto just tried to satisfy his cronies, his friends. We have to build an economy with the will of the majority. Suharto tried to rob this country by allowing conglomerates and cronies to control the economy. The majority of the population lives at the subsistence level. We will give them subsidies, not the conglomerates.

How do you stop new cronies?

Education and rule of law. If we can establish rule of law, then every action will be judged by the regulation.

What about removing dwifungsi - the military's dual political role?

It will take time, maybe up to five years.

And the relationship between the Islamic clergy and the state?

Clergy should act on the basis of morality, not law. We have to understand the minorities have their own thoughts about law and state. Because of this we should be careful. We should practice secularism without saying it's securalism.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

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