Fri, 03 Mar 2000

Gus Dur 'well equipped' to lead Indonesia to democracy

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid, who became president last October, is totally different compared to his predecessors. Known for his "consistency in his inconsistency", as one political observer put it, as well as his controversial statements when he was chairman of the largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), he seems to have retained this attitude as President.

The nation, seemingly unprepared to have such a person as its fourth president, is having a difficult time understanding him, while the world community seems to be more than delighted.

To better understand this fascinating new President of Indonesia, whose nickname Gus Dur is as famous, The Jakarta Post talked to Greg Barton PhD, who is Gus Dur's authorized biographer.

Barton, who is an expert on liberal Islam in Indonesia and who started writing the biography three-and-a-half years ago, said: "If you asked me even in October whether Gus Dur would become a president, I would have said it was possible, but not likely."

Now that Gus Dur is the president, Barton, who is also a senior lecturer at Deakin University, Australia, will be scampering to finish his book -- which will probably bear the famous nickname as its title. The book is due out in September.

Apart from Gus Dur the person, Barton also talks about Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri and the various challenges facing Gus Dur's administration.

Question: Gus Dur has often been in the center of controversy because of his surprising statements, the latest one being the Feb. 23 announcement that a stage-one security alert had been declared in Jakarta. How do you suppose to understand a person like him?

Answer: We need to look at the broader context. The current situation in Indonesia is extraordinary, and I think it should be said extraordinarily good given the expectations of a few years ago. But the challenges facing the government and the President are also extraordinary. I think we all agree that this is the best man for the job. One of the reasons why he is the best man for the job is because he is not an ordinary person. He is remarkably courageous, has remarkable vision, remarkable intellectual capacity and a deep understanding of democratic principles and of the way in which society should do reform and liberalize, a deep sense of the need of greater tolerance and justice in the society.

To use Gus Dur's own language, I think it is fair to say he is somewhat eccentric, he is not the average, and part of that eccentricity is that there are a lot of paradoxes about Gus Dur. But actually the paradoxes came as the result, it is not something which is mysterious but it is a reminder to us that we can't be too simplistic or too quick to sum things up.

Could you be more specific about these paradoxes?

One of the paradoxes of Gus Dur is that those who have read his writings or have been present when he is speaking -- particularly lately as president -- would agree that he is a master communicator. When you read his words on page, they are very clever, very well-crafted and the content is strong. And when he is speaking in person he communicates quite amazingly well and he suits his communication to his audiences. But ironically, one of his weaknesses is that he sometimes miscommunicates.

I think the example of the highest level of security alert was a miscommunication.

What actually happened?

My understanding is that the police were concerned about some demonstrations and so they were in a state of readiness. He said "Good, it is good to be in such a state of readiness because you are always prepared," but then it was interpreted as a red alert and in the broad sense that includes the military as well. In fact it was not the military, it was just the police. And it was nothing very dramatic. In trying to explain it was nothing dramatic, I think actually he miscommunicated.

What can we learn from this mistake?

First it is clear from such things that you know he is a human being who can make mistakes. But very often we underestimate him, so we more often than not underestimate him. It is not that he can't be wrong. He can be wrong sometimes.

But with many other statements he appears to be very careless about making often very carefully calculated statements. For example, I'm inclined to believe that his reference the other week to Feisal Tanjung (that the former Armed Forces commander was involved in the violent takeover of the Indonesian Democratic Party headquarters on July 27, 1996) was intentional.

He was trying to see what sort of reaction he would get. And also in his dealings with Wiranto, he had a very clear end point in mind. He wanted to avoid confrontation, he wanted to try and win over an enemy and avoid bitterness as far as possible, both for Gen. Wiranto and for TNI. But he was prepared to be flexible about the best way to proceed each day.

What was his purpose in mentioning Feisal?

I don't know. I mean it is speculation. One of the reasons he could say such a thing could be to see who comes out in support of Feisal, and that would be an indication of the level of support he has in society, and in TNI in particular. And evidently no one was willing to support Feisal, which I think was confirmation that he had a green light to move ahead.

Meaning that Gus Dur is very clever?

Yes, he is very easy to underestimate. It is very important to avoid cliches or to be too simplistic. But nevertheless, when speaking about Gus Dur I think it is helpful to make reference to something that is very meaningful, such as the wayang kulit (Javanese shadow puppet) stories. And clearly of all the characters in wayang kulit stories, the person that is most like Gus Dur is Semar. That I think is a helpful way to understanding who Gus Dur is. In other words he is not the person that appears on the surface.

Semar is from the wayang kulit stories which are Hindu Buddhist, but you find a parallel kind of wisdom in tasawuf and sufi (mysticism in Islam) stories in Indonesia, but also around the world. The recurrent theme in sufism is that the hero is the one who looks least likely, and often it is a way that tests our wisdom and maturity by presenting us with what appears on the surface to be unimportant and seeing how we respond to it. It is certainly his style, his style is completely unpretentious. So behind that very ordinary facade, which appears very easygoing, full of jokes and even sometimes can seem slightly too relaxed, is actually a very sharp mind working to a game plan.

Nevertheless, there are concerns that there are people around him who act as "whisperers".

There are a few things that we should recognize about that. First it is important to look at the context. I think if we want to be objective in journalistic reporting we need to acknowledge the contextual factors. Now when a paper like Republika makes a statement, it is important to know that Republika has certain party political affiliation, and it would appear to me in this case that the reporting in Republika was driven by party political considerations.

It is possible that there are some sort of distortion occurring deliberately. That's the first thing to recognize about events of the couple of past weeks. So party political factors, which is OK and fair enough in democracy in that there has to be competition, we need to be honest. And also there is more sinister distortion of the news from time to time. Not always, but it does happen from time to time. It is important to recognize another context of the democratic environment which is emerging. Democracy is essentially about competition.

When somebody becomes a head of state, particularly in a presidential system, or even the prime minister in the UK or Australia, by definition they are partisan, and they have to have people around them who belong to their party who will support them. But the current situation is even more than that. It is a period of regime change which means that not only do you need to have your party in a position of strength, you need to be sure the people you have immediately around you can be relied upon absolutely. And it appears that there are many political changes that have to be pushed through which will not be popular.

What will it entail?

Many long-term civil servants fully understand that the whole world is now changing. This is not uniquely Indonesian, it is true around the world. But nevertheless, the changes have to be made. Some people are resisting and so the head of state needs a reliable team. Even without the factor of a regime change, you look at a stable democracy like America, no one would suggest that a new American president should not bring in his own team of people.

And that's true for Gus Dur as well. It would be most strange if he didn't choose people he could rely upon. We all know that the circumstances were such that he had to accept a Cabinet which was much more of a compromise than anyone wanted, but it was forced upon him by the inevitability of the situation.

So with that in mind, over the next few months we should expect him to consolidate his position as much as possible and build up a strong team. There is another fact that needs to be understood too. Gus Dur is a very strong minded individual who is used to doing things by himself. So newspaper reports that suggest that one person whispering in his ear can change his mind not only represents a misunderstanding of democracy, but misunderstanding of Gus Dur. It is not so easy to get him to do something just by whispering in his ear. It also ignores another factor; that is that he has literally, if you spell it out, hundreds of people from all walks of life who feed back information to him and his basic approach is to balance all the information he gets.

But how could such determination to deal with Gen. Wiranto in a certain way, for instance, be turned around 180 degrees in 12 hours? This only added confusion to an already unstable society. How do you explain it and will this kind of thing continue for four or five years?

We need to pull back and look at the broad context again. I think there is a tendency here in Indonesia to imagine what we are seeing is really sui generis (one of a kind) and that it is only happening in Indonesia. This arises partly because there is virtually no one in public life today who has good recollections of living in a democratic period, because if you are in public life and were active in 1956, today you would obviously be very much older.

Most people today, including those in public life, have had no personal experience, at least as adults, of what life is like in a democracy. So there is a lot of false expectation and misunderstanding.

I think people would be very surprised if they spent some time in Berlin or in Washington DC or Canberra or wherever to find that in fact here in these stable democracies there are many of the same complaints in parliaments that we think are somehow unique to what is happening here at the moment.

You look at any figure in public life. For example, an American like Allan Greenspan. It is hard to imagine a more sober and careful individual. Every so often he says something which sets the market fluttering, right? Because it is a natural phenomenon of democracy that things are analyzed or over analyzed, particularly when it comes to the stock market and the economy and everything else.

Even in the most viable economic system you always have these fluctuations. So, I think not only in that sense this will continue as long as Gus Dur is president, but it is the nature of democracy that we are now entering into an open system where there is much more transparent flows of information. Part of that issue is, in a sense, greater instability.

People may have been accustomed to so-called stability of the previous regime ...

One of the virtues of authoritarianism is that a kind of stability comes from control. It is not a virtue that we want to preserve, but it does mean that we get a bit of a shock when we enter into a more democratic period which suddenly we find to be apparently strange and there are all sorts of contradictory information. So no matter who is president, there is going to be this element.

Perhaps there are some personal aspects ...

It is true there are some personal aspects to Gus Dur, and I don't doubt he will be able to change as he becomes more experience at being a president. I mean, whoever became president would be on a very steep learning curve. And of course Gus Dur is the unexpected candidate. He suddenly became president and, of course, one personal struggle for him at the moment is his blindness. So if you put all the circumstances together it is a remarkable situation. He is obviously somebody who is learning very fast on the job. So we can expect nothing, except that he will learn and the style will be modified a bit over time.

For him, personally, I think also his team of staffers will get more experience as individuals, and so a more stable situation will emerge through the course of this year. But at the end of the day I think Gus dur will still be Gus dur, so there will be some element about his character which we might find surprising, maybe even frustrating. I think this is important to understand. Yes, we have to criticize and give him feedback, and his friends and those who are close enough have to do this in order to encourage what is possible. But we also have to accept we have been extraordinarily fortunate to get such a man to handle things at this difficult point in time.

Why do you think he is most suited to be president at this particular point in time?

He is very well equipped to handle difficult circumstances that most people would fail to face. But when we receive him, we get a packet, one complete set, and like Roosevelt or Churchill, what you get is not entirely what you want. There are personality traits, this is true of every leader. There is no perfect leader. It applies to whether you are talking about a Nelson Mandela or an outstanding figure like Mother Theresa, or an outstanding president like Roosevelt. There is always going to be something that, ideally, you would try and change. I think we have to accept to some extend that Gus Dur is going to be Gus Dur and he is going always to have this rather surprising style.

What do you mean by "when we receive him we get a packet?"

What I mean is the very element which makes Gus Dur more able to deal with this current situation, transition and recent change. Also, I mean it is another side of the element, the same element that sometimes causes frustrations. For example, it appears as if he is prepared to sacrifice his overall big picture plan for some momentary development. This appeared to be the case with Wiranto. But I think it is fair to say in the case of Wiranto, and in the case of Gus Dur's full career track record, including his period in NU before this, most of the time, the passage of time reveals what he was doing and more often than not it proves him right.

Because it's often not apparent. At the time he is doing something, but what exactly is he trying to do I think we can now see. With respect to Wiranto, that he was carefully, over many months -- beginning with the appointment of Wiranto to a civilian ministerial post -- working at a way of getting Wiranto to one side, because that was important for reform in the military. And in the final weeks he was trying to encourage Wiranto to resign on his own choice. In the end, he had to confront him and push a little bit harder, but even then he tried to soften the blow. Part of this negotiation is to push and then to pull back. It is like a clever athlete, whether it is silat or kung fu, boxing or some such kind of competitive sports, to be predictable is not always a good strategy. Sometimes it is good to do something he has done and catch an enemy off-guard. And this he does this very often.

One print media describes his strategy as "confuse and rule" in place of divide and rule.

As I said, you can see it in many sports. For example, leaving aside the martial arts, a game like singles tennis. It is not necessarily the most powerful player who wins, sometimes a more intelligent and experienced player can outwit his opponent by doing the unexpected. So if you are playing from the backline play, you place the ball on the net and catch him off-guard. And I think that is what is happening in his final negotiation with Wiranto. And most of the time with Gus Dur this is the case. He is a very skillful political operator. Sometimes he makes mistakes.

I think it is fair to describe Gus Dur as somebody who is an idealist in his religious conviction and his vision, but also a realist. So you can call him an realist idealist. The idealist guides the big picture strategy and the realism guides his day-to-day tactics. So he is quite prepared to say OK, I push as hard as I can, now I withdraw for a while and then push again later on. I think in the case of Wiranto, I don't know, I'm just speculating, but what appears to have happened is that he decided, having reflected on it and checked his information, "now is the time to push to finish it off, because if I pull back now it's not going to give any result".

Who do you think the people are who win his ear?

There is no single person. Certainly there is no single, perfect individuals who have a monopoly over his ears. In fact, he deliberately wants a wide range of information sources. One of the reasons he travels so much, certainly domestically, is to get lots of feedback. He is somebody who enjoys mixing with people as an extrovert, he likes company, he likes engaging in conversation. Often a conversation with him is very relaxed and full of jokes. But he also has various intents, in terms of trying to get some feedback. So he gets feedback from all sources.

Now clearly there are people who are close to him whom he trusts very much, but it doesn't mean that he always agrees with them. For example, one of the closest ministers to Gus Dur is Pak Alwi (Shihab, the foreign minister), but I think you will find both Pak Alwi and Gus Dur will say that sometimes Gus Dur will take the position of conflict with Pak Alwi. He might even argue, as he often says: "Well, Pak Alwi is not experience at being Menlu (foreign minister). He is an academic from divinity school, so of course he is in a learning period." He is not and he imposes his own opinion. So even the ministers closest to him can disagree with him. He is a very individual thinker.

All of his life he has done things by himself with great independence and he is not about to be swayed just by the odd whisper in his ear.

How do you see Gus Dur as a leader?

There is another paradox about Gus Dur. I think as a leader he is extremely gifted and he has a very fine political instinct, but I would also argue that he is not a good administrator. And in certain respects he is not a good manager, but paradoxically he is an extremely good leader. In other words, he is good at the big picture. He is good at strategizing, he is also good in inspiring people and winning their confidence and bringing them with him. He is very good at winning over his enemies.

For example, it is hard to imagine anyone else as leader could reform as quickly and as successfully with the least confrontation possible with TNI as Gus Dur has done. It has been remarkably effective because he has not confronted TNI. He said, "Look, I do honestly believe that most of you are on my side and wanted the way I am going, so why don't we work together and help each other?"

It has been an extremely good leadership, but his lack of managerial administrative strength is also obvious. I think it would be unrealistic to expect him to be perfect in every respect. So clearly over the coming months, ideally there would be some consolidation in his team so that what is lacking in him as an individual will be made up for with individuals who have complementary strengths.

What do you think are Gus Dur's priorities?

The broad picture is, he wants to create a just and fair society in which economic development is ongoing so that it is possible to then argue for a more equitable share. He wants to generate wealth and wants it shared equally, he wants the rule of law to be applied, both on paper and right down to the local level and practice.

There should be a society in which no one has to fear a judge or a police officer or military officer. That's his vision, and he would argue that it is what an Islamic society really is. Whether you happen to be Christian or Muslim or Hindu, this is his vision.

How can this be achieved?

To achieve that he has a game plan, and the first element in this is reform in the military, because if military elements become upset they can spoil everything. But if they are won over, as is happening now, not only would they be happy, but local and international investors would feel comfortable and that would make thing easier to look at restoring the economy. Without restoring the economy, it would not be possible to move ahead with reform. But for reform to occur, proper and full implementation of rule of law would be necessary so that people would know there was justice.

He wants to move to that, so reform of the military, trade and investor confidence and systematic reform of the system so that you can get rule of law is important. Associated with that is setting up a democratic system with full checks and balances. So, hopefully, in four and a half years, when Indonesians vote again, there will be some substantial innovations of legislation. For example, there might be the case of direct election of the president.

Is there any other agenda?

There are some other problems that are very high priority that need to be attended to as well. Specific cases like Aceh and the Malukus which are very serious. He has been working very hard on these things, mostly behind the scenes, and hopefully we might see some signs before too long that progress has been made.

But against all of this there is the whole question of the past. If we have a society which is just and democratic, open and transparent, if there is checks and balances and so forth, that's well and good, but there are a lots of unresolved issues from the past.

I think one of the next initiatives which he will take is a truth and reconciliation commission, because it is his judgment and the judgment of many other people that the present judicial system lacks the capacity, and also in many respects lacks the quality, to properly handle all of the injustices of the past.

I think that well after Gus Dur's five-year term, if all things go well he will be remembered as, to use Herb Feith's phrase: a solidarity maker, somebody who consolidated and built society, lay the foundation of a more democratic and proper society. It is very likely that the president that comes after him, the fifth president, may be a better administrator, a better manager perhaps.

Whom do you think Gus Dur regards as his enemy?

Gus Dur is a curious individual because it is his natural style, as far as he can, to avoid having enemies. And it is his deliberate political strategy where possible to win over enemies and make them either friends or partners, or at the very least not permanently opposed to him. I think we can say this for the military. He is trying very hard to negotiate in such a way that it recognizes his achievements, gives the military a way out, a face-saving way of stepping forward into reform rather than becoming his enemy.

It is also a personal attribute of his not to hold grudges. And related to that is the fact that he is very generous in his relationships with people. People who let him down, he is prepared to give a second, a third, fourth chance. Maybe some people say he is too generous, but it is part of his makeup and this is formed by his basic religious philosophy, which is that all human beings are in a state of flux between evil on the one hand, and goodness and justice and righteousness on the right hand, and the important thing is to encourage the maturation of the development of people. He is willing to give people the chance to move ahead and develop.

Could you give some examples?

Specifically individuals like Amien Rais (speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly) who occasionally appears as friend and sometimes appears as a rival or appears to be undermining him, he does not have a strong sense of antipathy toward him. He is, for example, not angry with Amien or other such people and he is willing to give him a chance. He will argue that in the case of Amien, politically in certain respects he is naive and he should be given a chance. So when you are talking about an enemy, it is not someone in the obvious figures that you might point to. I think it is better to make a further distinction between political opposition and real enemies. If we had a stable democracy there would need to be a good opposition and just because they are in the opposition does not mean that they are enemies.

Whom do you think would be a good opposition today?

His government will become increasingly a coalition of PKB, part of PAN and PDI Perjuangan. And that means that most of Golkar and a large section of PPP and a portion of PAN and most of the Islamic parties, perhaps with the exception of the Justice Party, will join an opposition. And that will be the face of the opposition. Now that does not make them the enemy, it is just opposition figures which is healthy in democracy.

And the enemies?

The enemies are the small minority of figures connected to the previous regime and its past abuses, including some in the military and some outside the military who were willing to use any means to achieve their own personal means that included using religion and religious sentiment for personal gain. So some people who claim to represent a sort of conservative end of the spectrum of Muslim command and some people who claim to be acting on behalf of TNI but are probably acting on their own behalf have shown themselves quite willing to act in a way which is without regard to the good of the whole of society.

For example, we don't know the whole story concerning Aceh and Maluku and it is important not to speculate too much because there are real problems there. But with a case like the recent violence in Lombok, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that there was some deliberate provocation. I think there are other clear cases where that seems to be the case. The Banyuwangi "ninja" (assassins dressed in black) killings, I think were clearly not spontaneous.

There was some spontaneous vendetta activity there, with some vigilantes involved, but essentially it was a calculated cold- blooded effort by individuals to manipulate for their own purposes. And, of course, we saw something very bizarre and tragic which occurred here in May 1998. There are many other cases we can point to. So the people who are behind these things are the real enemies of this government and of this president and in fact of this society, I think.

Who are they?

It is important to be careful about how we speculate on their names, and it is important to acknowledge that some of the obvious suspects may in fact not be what they appear. They have made full guise of devices used by other more benevolent forces. For example I mentioned Amien, I don't think Amien really wants to use Islam in a way which destabilizes the society, but some people might try to use him. And I think we many not know the full story about Wiranto. But there are clearly other people associated with the former regime who affected in cold-bloodiness and horrible way, who try to manipulate figures like Wiranto and Amien.

Gus Dur once said that 90 percent of the TNI was behind him, what do you think about this?

I am not an expert on the TNI. But I think with Gus Dur's style, 90 percent is not a precise figure. It is a rough way of saying that the majority of TNI is on his side. In very rough terms, it is probably reasonable to expect that maybe 10 percent of TNI is very proreform and 10 percent is antireform and 80 percent is not quite sure but can be taken one by the other. Gus Dur's genius is to get the 80 percent, the sort of floating mass if you like, to join with the reformists. And as I said, the reference to Feisal Tanjung is a deliberate exercise in as you say "flying a kite" to see what reaction it gets, to see whether any lightning strikes the kite that is flying in the storm.

What do you think is Gus Dur's opinion of Megawati?

Last year Gus Dur got into trouble by talking about Megawati and saying, "Well, you know, she is worthwhile, she is a nice person, she is sincere, the people love her, but she is not too bright." I think this is a very frank statement and probably politically unwise and probably ungracious to Megawati. But the important thing to recognize is that there is no personal antipathy and there is a lot of personal respect, and I think that Megawati herself has to be given credit for the gracious way in which she became willing to be vice president. I think it was not wise to talk about her being stupid, but behind that there is the truth that it is better at this point for her to be vice president. And even if people are not happy with her as vice president, they should recognize that everybody can only perform according to their ability, right? And according to what they are capable of.

What role do you think she is going to play?

I think her big role now will be to ensure that PDI Perjuangan develops into a strong party, which Megawati can afford. The next thing to acknowledge is that up until now she has been consistently courageous, she is willing to fight, she has kept her forces together and stopped them from mengamuk (running riot), which could easily happen, and she has been gracious about her relationship with the President. And there has always been, with momentary exception, a good personal relation between them. So I don't think Gus Dur's assessment of Mega has changed, but his affection for her is genuine and there has been differences of opinion about proper strategies or whatever, and the important thing is Megawati backs him up.

What do you think is Gus Dur's concept of power?

Gus Dur's concept of power is that, ultimately, if we were to have a healthy attitude to the way we look at our lives as individuals, and particularly as public figures, we need to recognize that and at one point one needs to not to use the word "religion". You need to have sort of high principles and to recognize that whatever we achieved in this world would fairly quickly be forgotten and lost and destroyed, particularly in terms of personal benefit and personal interest. Also he is clearly driven, as many people around the world are, by a sense of providence that ultimately God is really in charge of the universe. So in terms of power he believes that you are given opportunities and you must make the best of them. And ideally it should be for the common good, not just for the job. But of course many people abuse this, others manage to rise above their self-interest and to do a good job.

Gus Dur seems to enjoy his presidential seat. Do you think he has in mind to go on to a second term?

He literally has not even talked about a second period. I mean, after all, this is early days and the beginning of a very difficult term of government with enormous challenges. There is a lot of paradoxes, and a simplistic judgment can be very badly wrong. He is possessed of an enormous amount of self-confidence, but I don't believe he is egotistic in the normal, widely understood sense.

He just happens to be an extraordinarily intelligent and capable individual and he recognizes that. That doesn't make him an egotist. I raised this point because he enjoys being president. He gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to put into practice things he straightened up for many years. But he is not ambitious in the normal understanding of the word.

There are some people who live and die on political achievement. For him it is much more a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. He can live without being president. He strongly believes in the hand of God in terms of providence.

People might like to ride around in a Mercedes-Benz and to live in a palace, to tour the world and eat fine food. But for him he really would be equally happy living in his house in Ciganjur, eating Warung Padang food and mixing with local friends.

In retrospect, Gus Dur led the NU for 15 years. He may not crave power, but he does not mind it. He even appears to like it. As a political animal, he openly courted Tutut (Soeharto's oldest daughter) in the 1997 general election. Now he is leading the nation's reform. He believes in providence. And there are mystical factors, like the Langitan (kyai) blessing, etc. What kind of impact can all these things have on the nation?

I think it is important to understand a couple of issues here. One issue is democracy. For better or for worse in a democratic system, certain individuals have to make a better contribution nowadays, and political leadership at the national level requires a strong degree of self-confidence, a strong degree of vision.

We are not going to have good democracy here unless we have good political parties. We won't have good political parties unless we get good people involved, and that means that some of the right, committed people from the NGO civil society sphere have to go into political parties. It is not a dirty thing to be politically active because if you don't have good people, bad people will do it. So rather than bad people dominating the system, let's encourage good people. I think, Gus dur is a classic example. He is a genuine social activist and reformer, but he has the right sort of personal quality and confidence to directly be successful in this environment.

Those things should be seen as, rather than embarrassing features of his personality, an example to be followed at least by some people.

So don't be embarrassed about being a political animal. It could be a very good thing. We have to be honest to mature. Of course, the flip answer to it raises the question of the abuse of power. Now, the way that democracy handles it is through checks and balances. I think the important way to judge Gus Dur, let's see what systematic reforms he brings in, and the extend that he brings to strengthen democratic institutions. Then we will see whether he leaves a lasting legacy.

Do you think there will be something like a Gus Durism legacy after his term, judging from his very different approach as a head of state?

This is one of the other paradoxes about Gus Dur which is important to understand. In some ways it was easier to have Sukarnoism because that was a particular approach to nationalism. It would be much harder to have Gus Durism in that sense because basically what he believes are universal values. So it's not unique. And certainly from the Western point of view of today's Christian heritage as well as Islamic heritage, some things are parallel and common. And his approach to other things like economics, international relations, there are some distinctive features, but not as distinctive as Sukarno. It is much more mainstream. But, of course, as an individual he is pretty much unique, so it is very hard for anyone to be like him.

So I think that quite automatically the one unique Gus Durism, in the sense that this is at a personal level, and in terms of policy legacy and the changes in effect, is much less idiosyncratic and much more universal in nature. Indonesian society will hopefully end up more democratic, more transparent if people have respect for differences, whether religious or cultural or whatever. That the society always seems to build up and develop, that will be his legacy.

So ironically, the legacy of this very unique individual would be the establishment of the universally desired principles and systems.

What do you think is the state of Gus Dur's health? The media has often described him as being of frail health?

I think the word frail is much overused. I followed his entourage through trips far too long and I felt very frail. If you asked the Cabinet ministers and the journalists who joined him on his foreign trips I think you would find a lot of people experienced frailty.

In that sense, the least frail person on those trips was Gus Dur himself. He has enormous stamina, by various means, by switching off, like taking a catnap. He has enormous stamina. I think it is also important to recognize that he is going through a personal struggle with blindness and has not yet adjusted to it.

Part of the reason people constantly talk about his frailness is when the whole world, on the morning of Oct. 20, 1999, watched him surrounded by adjutants and looking frail merely because he is a man not yet accustomed to physically getting around unaided. This miscommunicates, this misinforms. He is actually much more robust than he appears.

He is a man who is approaching 60 who has had two strokes -- one serious -- and who needs to be concerned about his health. But that applies to most other people of his generation. And as a friend I am very much encouraged by his diet, his personal security. His health is monitored much more closely now than ever before. So I am not greatly anxious about it. Provided that he takes a rest from time to time, then I don't think we need to worry too much. (hbk/anr/mds/amd)