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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

OCTOBER 15, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 41

All Bets Are Off
In the race for the presidency, new power balances are surfacing

Kingmaker Abdurrahman Wahid's apparent backing of Megawati did not stop him congratulating Amien Rais (left)
Kemal Jufri for Asiaweek
"That is democracy. That is no problem," shrugged President B.J. Habibie. Earlier that Oct. 1 morning, the chief justice had sworn in nearly all of the 700 delegates to Indonesia's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly. The MPR, as Indonesians call it, will choose the next president, and a significant portion of its members oppose the beleaguered Habibie. Many people did not stand as he entered the plenary hall; some even booed him. Though one delegate reprimanded the rest for their disrespect, a message had evidently been delivered by the country's first multi-party, largely elected legislature in over four decades: No longer would it scrape and bow before some all-powerful chief executive. Its decisions now would matter.

No more were microphones switched off to suppress representatives' opinions, as they were in March 1998 when the previous MPR elected Suharto unanimously to a seventh term. Nor were delegates beholden to a single party, the long-ruling Golkar, as they were when the MPR met again last November to confirm Habibie's policies. Largely free and fair elections this past June had rid the legislature of its Suharto-era complexion, but did not grant any one political faction a dominant share of either the MPR or its lower house, the 500-seat parliament. The maneuvering for power is proof positive that multiparty politics, if not democracy, has come to Indonesia.

The presidency is up for grabs
• Backlash Why ASEAN is now uncomfortable with the international peacekeeping force in East Timor
• Reporter's Notebook West Timor as dangerous neighbor

The fallout from the Myanmar embassy siege

Another chapter in the Anwar poisoning saga

Why the country can't get its nuclear power act together

Among Estrada's problems: a Taiwan air dispute

With political and financial uncertainty deepening, the people's patience is running out with the country's big institutions - the presidency, military, parliament (10/08/99)

Why Megawati gave the military a plum post

East Timor
What Falintil is up to (10/08/99)

Even Habibie's advisers admit that in the newly rambunctious legislature, the president's re-election looks tough. "It'll be a miracle," says one aide. But the smooth election of his fiercest opponent, opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, is now also in question. Her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) won about 34% of the popular vote in June's election, which gave her about 30% of seats in the parliament. But since the polls, Megawati has rested largely on her popular mandate, and kept aloof from the wheeling and dealing which is necessary to build a dominating majority in both legislative houses.

The result: Defeat has dogged Megawati almost from the MPR's opening gavel. For example, her PDI-P wanted the MPR session, slated for two phases ending with a Nov. 10 presidential election, compressed into a marathon two weeks. But in closed-door meetings, other parties forced her group to a compromise: a three-week session in which the president would be determined by the 700-seat MPR on Oct. 20.

In voting on crucial measures governing the composition of the MPR and its leadership, the PDI-P and Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid's heavyweight National Awakening Party (PKB) could only muster about 280 votes. An alliance between Golkar and a clutch of Islam-linked parties calling themselves the "Center Axis" took most measures their way, gaining sometimes over 400 votes in their favor. The PDI-P's most humiliating defeat came near midnight Oct. 3, during the election of the MPR chair. The PDI-P threw its weight behind PKB chair Matori Abdul Jalil. By a margin of 26 votes, Center Axis leader Amien Rais, leader of the National Mandate Party (PAN), snatched the key post.

"This is a consequence of Megawati's inaction since the election," says Fajrul Falaakh, a governance consultant for the United Nations Development Program. PDI-P had gone into the MPR assuming other parties would back it - and that PDI-P would set the terms for any cooperation. So while Rais solidified his Center Axis and Golkar chief Akbar Tandjung shuttled between party leaders, Megawati kept her remote silence. In the end, even one of her key allies, the highly influential Wahid, was moved to give Rais his blessing (he was the first person the new MPR chief hugged after his victory).

But the new power equations also have to do with ideological splits among Indonesia's political forces, not seen so sharply since the last round of parliamentary politics, in the 1950s. The secular nationalist PDI-P has not shed its image of being an opponent of political Islam; recent decisions, such as supporting a military man to head Jakarta's city council instead of a Center Axis candidate, have only reinforced it. "Megawati has failed to convince many Muslims that she represents the entire nation," says University of Indonesia lecturer Eep Saefulloh Fatah. "That caused many Muslims to conduct 'negative politics': Anyone but Megawati. This is the meeting point between Islam and Golkar."

Before Rais's election as MPR chairman, the Center Axis and Golkar struck a deal: Rais would get the former ruling party's votes in exchange for Center Axis support for Golkar's bid to seize the other main legislative post, head of parliament, or DPR. In the early morning hours of Oct. 6, that is exactly what happened. Near midnight Oct. 5, Tandjung had initially been acclaimed by consensus among the five largest parties in parliament: PDI-P, Golkar, the Center Axis' United Development Party (PPP), PKB and PAN. Despite this, a minor Muslim party forced a vote for the top DPR position. Golkar: 411. PDI-P: 54.

With both top legislative posts in the pockets of Golkar and the Center Axis, what now happens to the PDI-P's chances for the presidency and vice-presidency? "[Megawati] is convinced she will win," says Marzuki Darusman, head of Golkar's MPR faction. But PDI-P's acquiescence to Golkar in the battle for parliament might indicate an agreement to share power. One ticket being mentioned has Megawati as president with Golkar's Tandjung her running-mate.

There are those who worry that all the bargaining will end up betraying the ideals of Indonesia's student-sparked reform revolution. PAN secretary-general Faisal Basri shakes his head about Rais: "During his campaign he damned Golkar and see what he is doing now." But there are also those who believe this negotiation process will result in a government equipped with more checks and balances. Under the new political laws, Rais, a frequent critic of Megawati, now has the power to summon her government annually and demand its accountability if she becomes president.

In the maneuvering, one formerly significant force is keeping a low profile: the military. In the close vote for the MPR chair, the armed forces did not vote for either candidate. Nor has it committed itself to either PDI-P or Golkar-Center Axis. The morning of Oct. 5, TNI - which are the Indonesian initials by which the military is known - celebrated its 54th anniversary in a remarkably frank and self-reflective mood. TNI's chief of territorial affairs Lt.-Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated the military's new neutrality to reporters: "The idea is quite clear: we will be continuing to move away from day-to-day politics." TNI commander Gen. Wiranto has yet to agree to his nomination as Habibie's running-mate.

The MPR drama is barely past its first act. The Assembly now goes into recess to allow a smaller working group to hammer out broad state guidelines that will determine future legislation. It also has to decide another key measure: whether the voting for president on Oct. 20 will be secret - which raises fears of possible bribery - or open and along party lines. On Oct. 14, it will hear and decide on Habibie's accountability for his past year-and-a-half in power; it will have a direct impact on his chances for re-election.

Much could still happen. Megawati's supporters among the urban poor have so far kept silent even as her party receives one humiliation after another. When the MPR began, PDI-P leaders had little patience for street protests. They even posted party paramilitaries to guard hotels where delegates were staying. But a sour mood within the Assembly can spread to the streets very quickly. Also, given the close contest between PDI-P-PKB and Golkar-Center Axis, TNI may be forced to tip the scale. "Once [the military] takes sides, it's going to be determinant," says an interior ministry official, Ryaas Rasyid.

On Oct. 11 or 12, Golkar will meet and decide whether to retain Habibie as presidential candidate. The rift between anti-Habibie (so-called "White" Golkar) and pro-Habibie forces ("Black" Golkar) is as complicated as the one between PDI-P and Islam. Many of Habibie's allies, even those tarred by the ongoing Bank Bali fund-siphoning scandal, have secured seats in the MPR. The president's cohorts are also applying pressure on Tandjung, who is now emerging as a bet to be Golkar's presidential nominee. The president's detractors within the former ruling party can expect some outside help: The International Monetary Fund wants the government to reveal by Oct. 10 the entire PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the Bank Bali scandal, a revelation that could finish Habibie.

The Golkar-Center Axis alliance has so far gone from strength to strength. Despite its youth and the convenience of the convergence, the alliance is almost natural. The seasoned politicians who lead the parties in the coalition know each other well. Tandjung and Rais were both Muslim University Student Association leaders; other party bigwigs have long histories either in Muslim campus politics or the Suharto-created Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals. Inspired by successive victories, they could begin exploring the possibility of more long-term cooperation. Their rise might have major repercussions for the character of the world's largest Muslim country.

So far it's too early to tell, just as it is too soon to say whether Megawati has forfeited her bid for the presidency. But having lost the contest for control of the legislative branches to Golkar and Islam, her ascension to the country's highest post - and her tenure there - now depends on the mercy of her rivals. She may yet win the battle for the presidency but she could already have lost the war. When asked whether this MPR session is really more democratic, Golkar's Darusman laughs: "It's more politics."

- With additional reporting by Dewi Loveard / Jakarta

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