Indonesia: How Long Can Gus Dur Survive?


Professor James Fox

Abdurrahman Wahid – or Gus Dur as he is popularly known – was elected as Indonesia’s President by a coalition of Muslim parties in preference to Megawati Sukarnoputri whose party won the largest share of the popular vote. Since his election, however, there have been increasing calls for his replacement. Opposition to his erratic style of leadership and to a lack of progress in stabilising the country eventually forced Gus Dur in August to agree to allow Megawati to play a larger role in a reformed cabinet.

Since these changes, a new chorus of criticism has been orchestrated by the speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly, Dr Amien Rais, who has apologized for his role in getting Gus Dur elected. To add to his difficulties, Gus Dur’s own Minister of Defence has been carrying on a public quarrel with the US ambassador over his sharp criticism of Indonesia’s lack of progress in dealing with the issues of Timor. The role of the United States in the Middle East has also been the subject of mounting Muslim antagonism.

Underlying a great deal of current discontent is the perception of wide-spread corruption, some of which may yet be traced back to the President himself. The first whiff of corruption concerned missing funds from the Indonesian Logistics Agency (BULOG) supposedly misappropriated by the President’s masseur. Then there were rumours about the diversion of money from the Sultan of Brunei. While proceeding with the prosecution of some of former President Suharto’s closest associates, the President has sought to postpone the prosecution of three of Indonesia’s largest tycoons.

Matters became murkier, when Suharto’s son, Tommy, was convicted over a fraudulent land transaction and Gus Dur refused him clemency. Tommy then went into hiding and rumours were spread that he had managed to tape the President’s personal negotiations over the price of his clemency and was using these tapes as his protection.

This political instability has led to a weakening of the rupiah. Gus Dur and his supporters cleverly made use of this opportunity to turn the tables on Amien Rais by blaming him for the rupiah’s weakness. Megawati, in turn, came out publicly in support of the President and called for an end to destabilizing criticism from members of her party. She can afford to play a waiting game to avoid involvement in any unconstitutional attempts to dismiss the President.

Yet just when it seemed that Indonesia’s wily President has once more averted serious crisis, some hundred and fifty members of parliament signed a document expressing their concern over the President’s conduct. He, in turn, disputed the legitimacy of the parliamentary committee investigating the missing BULOG funds. Thus the battle between the President and his opponents continues to range and not even the fasting month, which has just begun, has put on hold Jakarta’s divisive political manoeuvring.

WATCHPOINT: There is a continuing prospect for more crises in a politically unstable Indonesia.


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