JAKARTAIn the short run, Indonesia will benefit from the replacement of Abdurrahman
Wahid by Megawati Sukarnoputri. The longer-run implications are more negative.
The positives are the ending, for now at
least, of the struggle for power between the Parliament and the president. It
had paralyzed decision-making and created an atmosphere of constant semi-crisis.
There will now be a new cabinet, a new cooperation between executive and
legislature. With the crisis over, the rupiah has strengthened and the stock
market has risen. Mrs. Megawati's low-key approach to all things, her lack of
views on many issues and her remarkable ability to say very little should enable
her to enjoy a longer than usual honeymoon. Her government will be broad-based
and starts with the commitment of three major parties in addition to her own to
support her until the next elections in 2004.
The constitutionality of Mr. Wahid's
removal may long be debated. There is no doubt that here, as with similar events
in Manila earlier in the year, the attitude of the military was the hinge
factor. But Indonesia can take comfort from the fact that the process has been
marked by remarkable public calm. There has been scant sign either of rejoicing
at Mrs. Megawati's elevation or the anger that many feared would be demonstrated
by Mr. Wahid's loyalists. The low-key reaction is in part due to the more
cynical views that the public now has of its leaders after watching the
political drama of the past two years being played out daily in the nation's
free and lively media.
It is also a tacit public recognition
that Mrs. Megawati is not a natural leader likely to provide quick solutions to
the nation's many troubles.
And it is an acknowledgment that Mr.
Wahid was a well-intentioned man who was as much a victim of circumstance as of
his own shortcomings. His failing was not his policies, which were consistently
liberal, inclusive and internationalist. It was his stubborn unwillingness to
compromise, to admit that the democratization process that he had promoted had
undermined the position of the presidency vis-à-vis Parliament.
Mr. Wahid staked all on his
interpretation of an imprecise constitution and lost. Parliament was the winner.
It now remains to be seen whether Indonesia adheres to what has in effect become
a hybrid between a parliamentary and a presidential system, with the military
acting as the balancing factor.
Mrs. Megawati has the largest party in
Parliament but will remain partly reliant both on the Suharto-era forces
represented by Golkar and on Muslim parties less liberal, less committed to a
secular Indonesia than was Mr. Wahid. The key members of the political elite who
joined hands to topple Mr. Wahid will expect rewards. Mrs. Megawati will likely
Mr. Wahid believed in changing Indonesia,
and to some extent succeeded. Her emphasis will be on stability at all costs.
Many see Mr. Wahid's downfall not as a
victory for Mrs. Megawati, who never actively sought to destroy her former
mentor, but for Suharto-era forces who opposed reform and stood to lose from Mr.
Wahid's fitful attempts to punish some of the more blatant thievery of that era.
Whatever her own views, it seems unlikely
that she will be able to do much about the past, or better Mr. Wahid's attempts
to clean up institutions such as the judiciary. The international community
should not expect dealings with Jakarta to get easier. Mrs. Megawati has
inherited some of her father's economic nationalism and so is less likely to
agree to asset sales to foreigners.
Pressures on her for cosy deals with big
local debtors will be even greater than they were for Mr. Wahid. The
International Monetary Fund and creditor countries will be faced with awkward
choices as to whether to endure further standoffs with Jakarta or turn a blind
eye to untransparent transactions.
Debt settlements, however dubious, would
help bring back Chinese money, now parked offshore, to buy back assets on the
cheap. However, Indonesian Chinese may remain wary. One of Mr. Wahid's
accomplishments was to remove official discrimination against them. It remains
to be seen whether a government that is likely to be more nationalist in
economic outlook and more dependent on less liberal Muslim elements in
Parliament will backtrack on this issue.
Mrs. Megawati's strongest suit in the
short term is the support of the military, which could improve law and order
conditions in places where communal violence has become endemic. However, the
military backing is linked to Mrs. Megawati's strong support (again, an
inheritance from her father) for a unitary state.
This may mean a reversal of the
decentralization process started by President B.J. Habibie and followed up by
Mr. Wahid. It almost certainly implies a tougher military stance against
separatism in Aceh and West Papua. On both these issues Indonesia could find
itself at odds with the outside world, or at least with the West.
In short, the installation of President
Megawati is a relief, but no cause for celebration.