- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Parliament cut short Abdurrahman Wahid's chaotic 18-month rule with an overwhelming impeachment vote yesterday and promptly installed in his place Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's founder and former president.
More than 40,000 heavily armed troops guarded Jakarta and clamped a protective ring of steel around the parliament during the vote. Support for the parliament from the military and other key institutions, including the supreme court, guaranteed a peaceful transition.
"With humbleness I accept, and take this as the people's wishes," Mrs. Megawati told the parliament after being sworn in as president.
In Rome, President Bush praised the nation for the peaceful transfer of power and said he looked forward to working with Mrs. Megawati.
"The people of Indonesia, by addressing their leadership crisis under their constitution and laws, have shown commitment to the rule of law and democracy," Mr. Bush said.
In her acceptance speech, delivered to applause from ecstatic members of the People's Consultative Assembly, parliament's upper house, Mrs. Megawati said she was "very conscious that the work ahead of me is not going to be easy."
In an apparent swipe at Mr. Wahid's erratic rule, which led to his ouster on charges of incompetence, corruption and unconstitutional rule, the new president acknowledged "the consequence of holding a position and not fulfilling it."
She added: "Let us unite and develop and fix our nation as one nation, in a united country which we love."
Cheering supporters immediately poured into the streets of Jakarta, honking car horns and singing of Mrs. Megawati's greatness.
The new president's first official task was to evict the nearly blind, crippled, tantrum-prone Mr. Wahid from the presidential palace, where he remained holed up, refusing to recognize the legitimacy of his ouster.
A close adviser and confidant told Australian television late yesterday that Mr. Wahid had accepted his fate but was in a state of shock. "There is, of course, a rather somber mood [in the palace]," biographer and academic Greg Barton said.
Many in the military were delighted to see Mr. Wahid replaced by Mrs. Megawati, an overweight former housewife nicknamed "The Sphinx" and "The Javanese Princess" because of her reluctance to speak in public.
Critics claim she is not a deep thinker — weak on economics, law and political intrigue — and will be putty in the hands of the military.
Her supporters, however, say it is a mistake to underestimate the woman who built her Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) into the most successful party in the 1999 parliamentary election.
She was denied the presidency then only because she was outmaneuvered in parliament by Mr. Wahid and others who managed to fashion a majority coalition without her.
Mrs. Megawati's enormous popularity stems in part from the connection to her father, who led the country to independence from Dutch colonial rule after World War II but was later overthrown in 1958 — some say with CIA help — amid fears that he was leaning toward communist China.
Mrs. Megawati was 18 years old at the time and presumably recalled the humiliating memory while mulling how to push Mr. Wahid from the palace.
Yet she is perceived as honest, against corruption and supportive of the masses, who have suffered under decades of poverty, government death squads, graft and mass resettlements.
Mrs. Megawati, who occasionally covers her heavy frame in military camouflage when addressing troops, always hoped the 500,000 members of the military and police would support her presidential aspirations.
Like many in the military, she opposed independence for East Timor and opposed Mr. Wahid's granting of greater autonomy to oil-rich Aceh province.
Unlike Mr. Wahid, who pruned some of the military's powers and leadership, Mrs. Megawati is expected to allow the military to flourish under her vaguely defined policies of strong centralized control.
Though she is a Muslim, Mrs. Megawati and her military allies face growing hostility from Islamic hard-liners who claim a woman must never be allowed to rule, and that all political and legal power must be guided by Islam's holy book, the Koran.
In his pre-dawn speech, Mr. Wahid warned that "efforts under way in parliament are an act of treason." He also decreed parliament to be frozen, pending new elections in one year.
But an overwhelming number of politicians, officials, bureaucrats, military officers and others — including the supreme court — dismissed his decree as a misguided rant.
His desperate bid to stay in power ended with yesterday's nearly unanimous impeachment vote from the upper house of parliament, which under the constitution is charged with electing the president and vice president for a five-year term.
The frumpy-looking Mr. Wahid had been hailed by supporters as "an Islamic intellectual," but his blindness hampered him greatly. His pre-dawn declaration had to be read out by his spokesman while Mr. Wahid sat scowling nearby.
In Jakarta's rough-and-tumble streets, people were hopeful Mrs. Megawati's rise would rescue Indonesia.
"Under Wahid, the rupiah [currency] was down to 10,000 to the dollar, but now it has strengthened to 8,600," said a money-changer updating his charts.
"Actually the rupiah should be stronger, up to 6,000 or 5,000, because Indonesia is a rich country."
An office worker, however, said "there are some things we don't know about [Mrs. Megawati]. She is supported by the Christians, and maybe soon there will be a battle between the Christians and the Muslims who say a woman cannot be a president."
Mr. Wahid himself came to power after parliament cast a no-confidence vote against another bumbling president, Bacharuddin J. Habibie, who had been hand-picked by disgraced ex-president Suharto.
During the past several months, much of the challenge to Mr. Wahid's presidency came from his savvy rival, Amien Rais, who claims to control 10,000 mosques and lead 28 million Muslims through his Muhammadiyah, or "Followers of Muhammad," organization.

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