Subject: RT: Indonesia's next Madam President
Date: Sun, 11 Oct 1998 23:28:46 +0700
From: "Leonardo J. Rimba" <email@example.com>
ANALYSIS-Megawati eyes Indonesia presidency 11:04 p.m. Oct 10, 1998 Eastern
By Amy Chew
SANUR, Indonesia, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Indonesia's leading opposition figure, Megawati Sukarnoputri emerged from her party congress at the weekend with a real chance of becoming the nation's next president.
``She was a major contender before this congress and after this (congress), she is the front runner,'' said Indonesian scholar Jeffrey Winters, who attended the three-day event in the resort island of Bali.
Megawati, running unopposed, won re-election as head of her breakaway faction of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) on Saturday.
The victory increases her chances of winning the nation's presidency, which many had already been predicting. Indonesia, edging towards democracy after decades of autocratic rule, holds parliamentary elections next May and a presidential election the following December.
The daughter of Indonesia's founding father Sukarno, Megawati was ousted as PDI leader in a government-backed move in 1996.
Long a critic of former President Suharto, who was forced to step down in May amid economic and social chaos, she has pressed relentlessly to force the government to reinstate her and has launched several legal challenges on the issue.
``She never, ever relents,'' said political analyst Muhamad Hikam of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
``Megawati has proven she is capable of preventing government intervention to destroy her party,'' said Hikam.
She is taciturn with the media and has offered little in the way of a clear political agenda.
But she is hugely popular nonetheless, and has now solidified her leadership of what is still an officially unrecognised, breakaway faction of the party.
Tens of thousands of supporters wearing the red of the party squeezed into a Bali field last Thursday to hear her opening address at the group's three-day congress.
Local police estimated around one million of her supporters were on the island for the congress.
Her success in presiding over such a big, peaceful gathering of opposition supporters is said to have strengthened her hand.
The government had delayed issuing a permit for the congress, saying it feared the meeting could flare up into violence and harm the tourist island's reputation.
``That's quite an impressive thing to show -- that she has strong support from below and that her followers are well behaved,'' Winters said.
While much of her political appeal derives from her surname, Winters attributed her popularity to her consistency and the people's belief she would fight for their rights.
``People see her as someone who is not corrupt, who will work for the nation and not herself,'' said Winters.
``Whereas almost every political figure has, at some point, been in bed with the New Order regime (of Suharto), she's shown a consistency which is unusual,'' he said.
Her allies believe Megawati has the qualities of a great leader and point to the way she has kept her faction intact.
``It is not easy to run a party like PDI which comprises Moslems, Christians, nationalists, liberals -- people from all kinds of backgrounds,'' said Abdurrahman Wahid, leader of Indonesia's largest Moslem group, Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).
A major challenge facing the party is its legal status, and whether to change its name, register as a new party and give up on what are sure to be lengthy legal proceedings to get official recognition as the real PDI.
``If the court does not give a decision until the very last minute...we will register ourselves as a new party,'' said economist and party official Kwik Kian Gie.
Political analysts are more concerned over the guarantee of free and fair elections next year.
``That's why we keep calling for the government to set up independent international and domestic teams to monitor the elections,'' said party member Mochtar Buchori.
``Because the government will do everything to abort Mega's bid to be a big political power,'' he said.
She also has to regain the support of students who lost faith in her when she kept silent during their anti-government protests which helped topple long-serving, autocratic Suharto.
``She must work to win back the students,'' said Buchori ``Don't forget, it were the students who formed the backbone of the movement which brought down Suharto,'' he said.