- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia Embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday handed the daily running of the government to his popular deputy, yielding to demands by senior legislators who harshly criticized his 10-month rule.
Mr. Wahid, 60, who is nearly blind, told the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly that Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's founding president, will run domestic affairs.
Mr. Wahid and Mrs. Megawati led a joint campaign to bring about democratic reform after the downfall of dictator Suharto two years ago. But their relationship became strained last October when he defeated her in an election for the presidency.
"I understand the need to change the management of the government," Mr. Wahid said in a speech read by an aide. "Because of this, I will ask the vice president to carry out daily technical duties."
The job will be a major test for Mrs. Megawati. Although her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has the largest number of seats in the assembly and the national parliament, she rarely speaks in public.
Mr. Wahid, who earlier persuaded disgruntled legislators not to launch impeachment proceedings against him, said he will take more interest in foreign policy while Mrs. Megawati will formulate Cabinet agendas and decide priorities for government programs.
Mr. Wahid said that under Indonesia's existing presidential form of government, Mrs. Megawati would remain accountable to him. He promised to trim his ineffectual Cabinet.
On Tuesday, most factions in the assembly accused Mr. Wahid of mishandling the nation's affairs during his first 10 months in office.
Senior legislators yesterday demanded that Mr. Wahid surrender greater powers to Mrs. Megawati.
Earlier this year, Mr. Wahid gave Mrs. Megawati responsibility for ending fighting between Muslims and Christians in the eastern Maluku islands, where thousands have died.
She made several peace missions to the remote archipelago, better known as the Moluccas, but the violence escalated.
Several of Mr. Wahid's aides revealed that the president had been considering the appointment of a prime minister to work under himself and Mrs. Megawati.
The decision to abandon this plan and empower Mrs. Megawati instead was warmly received by the assembly.
Akbar Tandjung, the parliament's speaker, said Mrs. Megawati could lighten the burdens of office now shouldered by Mr. Wahid, who has been weakened by a series of strokes.
"We believe the vice president can take over the daily operations of the government," said Tandjung, whose Golkar Party controls the second-largest number of seats in the legislature behind Mrs. Megawati's party.
Golkar still wields extensive power despite its record as the party that propped up the now disgraced Suharto during his 32-year reign.
Suharto is awaiting trial on charges of corruption.

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