Tue, 07 Nov 2000

Gus Dur fails people's wishes

Many people had high hopes for President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is widely known, but he has failed to live up to their expectations. In reality, few people expected him to be a great president when he was elected. Supporters of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-Perjuangan) wanted Megawati Soekarnoputri as President. Some leaders in Golkar and the United Development Party (PPP) had earlier criticized Gus Dur so their supporters cannot have expected much. The euphoria at Gus Dur's election was because he was the first President chosen through a contested election, he was not the New Order candidate and he was thought to be honest. But excitement about the election as an event is not the same as an expectation that things would be wonderful under Gus Dur.

The members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) who voted for Gus Dur over Megawati chose him because he would give them a chance to share power. Many concerns about Gus Dur -- his health, his blindness, his erratic statements, his weak position in the legislature, his lack of a support base in many areas -- were widely publicized both before and immediately after his election.

Everyone knew they were getting a President who would have trouble leading a cabinet meeting, trouble reading a policy address, trouble getting support from the House of Representatives (DPR) and trouble handling separatism.

Controversies like the firing of ministers, the attempt to lift the ban on communism and the Papuan People's Congress were in keeping with what had been forecast.

It is not clear that Gus Dur has failed in key areas, such as separatism. Separatism in Riau and East Kalimantan has been checked and in Irian Jaya the situation was remarkably peaceful until someone overruled the President's decision to allow the flying of the Morning Star flag. Separatism in Aceh and Irian Jaya would not go away no matter who was President, with or without democracy and regional autonomy. Democracy in Aceh and Irian Jaya will be warped because the separatists are outside the normal political process. Better roads, schools and jobs for Papuans may just mean a better-connected, better-educated, better-positioned Papuan independence movement.

Despite all this, most people agree that things are worse than they expected. Gus Dur's opponents point to his casual approach to corruption and his hostility to the legislature, as in the case of his answering the interpellation motion over the firing of two ministers. Gus Dur's supporters blame the DPR. For example, DPR members forced a delay in the fuel price increase, blocked the sale of Bank Central Asia, called for impeachment and then blamed the president for the fall of the rupiah. The MPR/DPR has sought credibility only by attacking the President, while much of its own agenda -- constitutional amendments, truth and reconciliation, auditing of members' finances, special autonomy -- has been slowed down or forgotten.

What is now called for is a serious approach to the nation's problems and an end to the cycle of political squabbles which have damaged the nation and merely given rise to further political squabbles. Whether this happens depends on the ability of the Indonesian people to guide their politicians.


Jakarta International Korean School