- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

JAKARTA, Indonesia — President Megawati Sukarnoputri spent her first day in office yesterday grappling with bloodshed that threatens to rip her country apart.
Her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, who was impeached Monday, wandered in a daze through the presidential palace that he refuses to vacate.
At the top of Mrs. Megawati's list: a separatist rebellion in Western Aceh province, the region that holds Indonesia's vast oil wealth.
Mrs. Megawati maintains a strong belief in a united Indonesia, and opposes greater autonomy for various regional and ethnic groups.
She opposed East Timor's independence from Indonesia, though she now accepts it as a fait accompli.
She is expected to be tougher than Mr. Wahid in response to demands for greater autonomy in Aceh, Irian Jaya and other zones where separatists are waging armed struggles.
Addressing an military think tank earlier this month, Mrs. Megawati said, "Terror has become a new language" used by Indonesians to gain power.
She said that her countrymen need to find "a democratic, civilized and responsible way out of this critical time" and not become a "barbarian race" unable to practice democracy.
In Jakarta, all eyes were on Mrs. Megawati yesterday as she shook hands with politicians, dignitaries, officials and others while forming new alliances and coalitions after being sworn in as president on Monday.
"The good thing is that she is willing to listen to advisers and willing to ask for advice," said former presidential palace press director, Dharmawan Ronodipuro, in an interview.
Mrs. Megawati is expected to seek foreign investment, her first step being to accept terms set down by the International Monetary Fund.
At stake is $400 million loan from the IMF, the latest installment on a bailout that dates back to the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
The new president saw an immediate rally in the stock market and foreign exchange rate after investors predicted a spurt of fresh financial help and direction for the economy.
Mrs. Megawati built her Democratic Party of Struggle into a hugely popular organization, demonstrating a strong but silent style.
She is also the daughter of Indonesia's founding first president, Sukarno.
The family aura bestows upon her a sense of automatic acceptance, as it has for other leaders' daughters who have risen to power in Asia in recent decades.
They include India's Indira Gandhi, Bangladesh's Sheik Hasina Wajed, and Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto.
Mrs. Megawati's supporters claim her matronly personality will reach out to the poor and promote honest government.
She is expected to pick a vice president as early as today and announce a new Cabinet by the end of the week.
"It must be a coalition Cabinet, but I am not sure whether it will be 100 percent or not," said Kwik Kian Gie, former economy coordinating minister.
Another hurdle facing her fledgling presidency is what to do with Mr. Wahid.
The half-blind former president, who was ousted from office Monday, spent the day in the palace in a daze yesterday, singing songs and claiming he was still in charge, aides said.
Presidential palace officials predicted that Mrs. Megawati would simply allow Mr. Wahid to wander amid the palace's tall white columns and cool verandahs, get a grip on reality and leave.
Indonesia's 210 million people have also breathed a sigh of relief that the violence many feared would accompany Mr. Wahid's fall has failed to erupt.
Jakarta was quiet yesterday as was Mr. Wahid's stronghold in eastern Java.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide