Mon, 07 Aug 2000

Yenny's Hero

It may be true that no man is a hero to his valet; to a daughter, though, he will always be. Like every daughter, Yenny Zannuba Rahman thinks her father a modern hero and would have us think the best of him too. There is no doubt that President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is popularly called, has some extraordinary personal traits. But is he, as Yenny wrote in her article for Gus Dur's birthday, a man of conviction?

Writing in the Aug. 2 Jakarta Post (Demystifying Abdurrahman), Mr. Michael Vatikotis of the Far Eastern Economic Review painted a different picture, a stunningly clear portrait of Gus Dur's pragmatism and traditional approach to politics. Last October, Gus Dur's particular traits and style of leadership made him the most electable of the presidential candidates. Are the President's well-known tolerance, devotion to Islam, and affirmation of Javanese spiritualism enough to bring the country through its present chaos to a stable political and economic course? It appears not. This president's survival may be a necessary condition of economic recovery, but it is not sufficient.

What will bring Indonesia stability is reform -- in economic, political, legal and governance systems. Events of the last days and months suggest that Gus Dur's commitment to reform is not so much sustained by conviction as subject to the vagaries of politics. His moves -- we cannot really call his inconsistent actions and statements policies -- are increasingly vulnerable to the demands of those whose support he seeks, the factions of the House of Representatives (DPR) and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Like Yenny, Indonesia needs President Gus Dur to be a hero. Perhaps the President did not notice this, but there was a sea change for the worse in the public perception of his presidency after he fired Laksamana Sukardi, because of Mr. Sukhardi's credibility as a reformer. This should be a sign to the President of how important for his success reform is. Reform is not a battle cry of a few militant students, not the objective of marginalized idealists only. Reform is not an option; it is the only way the country and the President can survive. People want a president who will stand heroically against corruption and for reform throughout the system. Abdurrahman Wahid's pragmatic chameleonism served him well for decades; it is failing him now. He needs to declare his principles and commit his government unwaveringly to reform. If, as Yenny believes, President Abdurrahman Wahid is capable of heroic commitment to principle, now is the time for the President to repay his daughter's and the country's faith in him by his wholehearted, concrete commitment to reform.


Medan, North Sumatra