Indonesia: Megawati Replaces Sacked Wahid

ByABC News

J A K A R T A, Indonesia, July 23, 2001 -- Indonesian lawmakers today elected Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the country'sfounding leader, as the fourth president in as many turbulent years, sacking her disgraced predecessor for incompetence.

The supreme People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) dumped Abdurrahman Wahid just hours after he declared a state of emergency and tried to dissolve the legislature in a desperatepre-dawn bid to hold on to power.

As the MPR decided his fate, Wahid was holed up behind razor-wire barricades in the colonial-era presidential palace, where aides said he laughed and joked over a lunch of soybeansand fruit and refused to leave.

The world's fourth-most populous nation, ruled by autocratsfor most of its history, has never had a peaceful transition ofpower. But there were no immediate signs of unrest today.

After taking the oath of office, Megawati read aseven-minute speech urging all sides to accept her election.

"I call on all parties to accept this democratic process...this is the voice of the people which we must uphold," shesaid, dressed in a traditional white blouse and a batik sarong.

"Let us build our country together ... let us erase all thefights among us which have only deepened the sorrow of thepeople."

Wahid’s Response Unclear

But it is unclear how Wahid will be forced from the palace.His aides have said he will refuse to stand aside.

And a big question mark also hangs over Megawati's ownabilities and those of her new team, which her aides say maynot be named for up to a week.

Megawati's party won the most votes in the 1999parliamentary election but is still well short of a majority.

Like Wahid, she will be forced to rely on an inherentlyunstable series of alliances to serve out her term to 2004.

The leadership crisis which has paralysed the nation formonths has stoked fears of a return of the bloodshed thatsurrounded the downfall of former autocrat Suharto in 1998.

But the streets were quiet on Monday.

Before the vote, Wahid likened his struggle to a jihad, orIslamic holy war, saying his emergency declaration was intendedto save the state.

He refused to attend the MPR hearing and remained defiant.

"Yes, he'll stay," presidential spokesman Yahya Staquf toldreporters when asked before the vote if Wahid would stay. "Thepresident considers the decree he issued as a jihad to save thestate."

He said the president would take "necessary action" to keepthe country together. Asked what that action would be, hereplied: "It will be announced later."

There was no immediate reaction from the palace to thevote.

But neighbors Thailand and Singapore welcomed Megawati'srise.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the change ofpresident would benefit the entire region.

"The more stable Indonesia is, the more the whole regionwill benefit," he told reporters.

The country's beleaguered rupiah also rose over 10 percentand stocks hit a 10-month high on Friday.

No Sign of Trouble

There was no sign of unrest, either in Jakarta or inWahid's political heartland of East Java, where Muslim leadersordered his fanatical supporters not to protest.

It is those supporters — some of whom have formed suicidesquads — who many fear could turn violent and throw thecountry back into the widespread bloodshed which has usuallymarked a change of ruler in Indonesia.

The only real sign of support for Wahid came from about 300protesters, who rallied outside the presidentialpalace today in support of Wahid. There were no incidents.

Troops were mostly absent from the streets of the capital,though two columns of tanks and armored personnel carrierstrundled through Jakarta in the morning.

The European Union's executive body urged all parties andsecurity forces to remain calm.

European Commission spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said thesituation "first and foremost a domestic matter to solve in ademocratic procedure and fully in line with the constitution."

"It is important that this process goes forward with calmand that there will be no violence," Wiegand told reporters.

Many Indonesians hope the change will now allow the countryto overcome its enormous political and economic problems.

Indonesia's economy is sputtering along while the rupiahremains at levels too weak to ease the country's huge foreigndebt burden.

Fighting among rebels and security forces has spiraled outof control in Aceh province, ethnic tensions haunt Indonesia'sside of Borneo island and Sulawesi while investors moan aboutthe general breakdown of law and order.

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