Wed, 23 Jul 2003

Megawati's achievements

What kind of achievement can be expected from a president who described herself as just a housewife and who told her ministers that the country's economy would be managed the way a housewife managed her family's finances? Although she had nearly two years experience as vice president when she replaced Abdurrahman Wahid to lead the country on July 23, 2001, people remain doubtful -- probably even to this day -- about her real leadership capabilities.

Today, Megawati Soekarnoputri commemorates the second anniversary of her presidency and to be fair, she has achieved more, especially in restoring political stability, than what people predicted two years ago. Her strong determination to maintain the Unitary State of Indonesia (NKRI) at any cost, has helped to temporarily contain rebellious movements in the provinces.

To a certain extent, the President's harshness in dealing with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has also helped to restore the central government's authority. On the other hand, while the President's policy of allowing the Indonesian Military (TNI) to look after their own affairs plays a key role toward establishing the current political stability, it could be costly in terms of the country's democratization and reform process.

The members of the current Cabinet can also concentrate on their work because, unlike Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati entrusts her aides to do their job and rarely intervenes in the running of their ministries.

Some progress is also visible in the area of economic recovery. The rupiah is more stable, inflation is lower than even the government's expectation, and significant consumer-based growth has also helped to spur economic growth.

It would probably be too cynical to say that her most important advantage has been her introverted, reticent attitude and her silence, considering that many of her critics give up airing their views on seeing that the President very rarely reacts.

Ironically, her reluctance to probe major human rights abuses and mega corruption cases, plus her conservative attitude, are also among the factors that have enabled her government to achieve stability. It is, however, lamentable that stability has been achieved more due to her inability to cure the country's most chronic and severe illnesses.

Despite the progress, foreign direct investment and even domestic investment continues to plunge and the real sector continues to worsen with no clear sign when the economic hardships will end. Unemployment increases steadily and market capacity to absorb labor is also still very discouraging. Corruption meanwhile has reached nearly all levels of society, and law enforcement is among the worst in the world.

To be fair, though, we cannot blame Megawati and her administration alone for all these problems. The current situation is a legacy of the Soeharto era and his successors, B.J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid. In all fairness, no one can be expected to be able to end this chaos within two years.

Nevertheless, the people deserve a much better performance from the President. She still has one more year to realize her own pledge of improving conditions in the country. If she can do it, she will no doubt be in a better position to win next year's presidential election.