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Behind the Power
Vice President Megawati is the deciding factor in the viability of Gus Dur's administration

Defiant Under Fire: By remaining unapologetic and unyielding in the run-up to the MPR session, Wahid might be becoming his own worst enemy

Shortly before Gus Dur (as President Abdurrahman Wahid is popularly known) was to face parliament in the interpellation session, he made an unexpected announcement to his cabinet: His partner, Megawati Sukarnoputri, would read his response to the parliamentarians' questions about the sacking of former ministers Laksamana Sukardi and Jusuf Kalla. Those close to the vice president say Megawati was shocked by the decision. Any such grilling in parliament should be answered by the president alone.

Taciturn and low-profile, Megawati normally goes along with the president's controversial decisions. But this time, she whispered to Wahid that she would not do as he had instructed. She added: "I will back you up, so please do not be emotional." Gus Dur ended up facing the parliamentarians himself.

It was the first time Megawati had gone against Wahid's will — and it suggested that she was trying to keep a distance from the president. A close associate of Megawati says she is tired of being ordered around by the president. She also remains angry at the way he sacked her close friend Sukardi without consulting her. The fact that the decision, made last April, happened when she was out of Jakarta did not help.

Wahid cannot afford to alienate Megawati, for she holds the key to his political future. In the People's Consultative Assembly, her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) controls 185 seats, or 27%. Any move by the assembly to unseat Wahid must have the PDI-P's support. Conversely, it is only with the PDI-P's backing that Gus Dur's position is tenable.

But what if Megawati wants to be president herself? According to insiders, she has been organizing a shadow cabinet that would be ready to take over at any moment. Sukardi figures prominently, along with some key members of Suharto-era governments. Her strategy, however, is not about destabilization. PDI-P secretary-general Sutjipto insists that Megawati is not aiming for a hostile takeover. "There is no point in playing such a game," he says.

First, though, Megawati needs to consolidate her fractious party. At least three separate factions currently dominate the PDI-P. The first faction is allied strongly to the former ruling party Golkar. It is widely known that Golkar is gathering power with the military and regional representatives' factions in parliament. At one point, Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung, together with deputy parliamentary speaker Ginandjar Kartasasmita, contacted Megawati to ask her to mobilize her forces because Gus Dur could no longer be relied on. The choice for Megawati under this scenario is to run with either Tanjung or Ginandjar as her running mate.

The second faction wants to bring Islam to a position of dominance in the country. "The majority of Indonesians are Muslim," says one leading member. "There are signs the international community is trying to reduce the role of Islam in our country. We don't want to make Indonesia an Islamic state like Malaysia or Saudi Arabia, but we don't want Islam to be given an inferior position either."

The last faction is dominated by Christians and is led by Theo Syafei, an ex-general formerly of Golkar. This group is directly opposed to the Muslim faction and is pushing for a bigger role in the party for Christians. Although the clique wields some clout, it does not have the kind of power needed to dictate the party's agenda or influence the top leadership.

Bringing these factions closer together would assist Megawati in any campaign to be president. A close friend says that her ambition is fueled not so much by her party's strong electoral position as by her belief that it is her destiny to live once again in the palace, where she, as the daughter of first president Sukarno, spent much of her childhood. "It's quite normal that she should have such an ambition, since after all she was the winner of the last election [when the PDI-P won the most parliamentary seats]," says the friend.

Yet at the same time, Megawati does not want to betray her partner and friend Gus Dur. PDI-P lawmaker Panda Nababan quotes her as saying: "How can I mount a hostile takeover against Gus Dur? Both of us were the victims of repression during the Suharto era." For now, Wahid's presidency is secure. After the interpellation session, he was able to walk out of parliament with a victory, however tarnished, mainly because Megawati had told her MPs to accept the president's position. It remains to be seen, however, how much longer her patience can be tried. n

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