And Indonesia Lived Happily Ever After...

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  • The Suharto elite: They failed to get their own candidate, President B. J. Habibie, elected, but they managed to keep the populist Megawati out of the top job, and clip the wings of the militants. Their votes played a major role in Wahid’s victory, and whatever influence that buys is the best they could hope for in a democratic Indonesia.

  • The moderate, largely Islamic political center: Represented by Wahid, they managed, despite being in the minority, to choreograph a grand political compromise and take power from under the noses of both Megawati and President B. J. Habibie. And they did it so skillfully that there’s little chance of a backlash from either Habibie’s or Megawati’s camp. Moreover, incorporating Megawati into his government gives Wahid the opportunity to moderate her views ahead of her possibly assuming the reins.

  • Megawati: She failed to win the presidency, but will wield considerable power as the Number 2 to the ailing Wahid — and his ill health may even see her take over before the end of his five-year term. By keeping Suharto cronies and the military out of the top tier of government, she and her supporters have completed the largely peaceful overthrow of the dictatorship that began in the spring of 1998.

  • The military: The generals may have had to abandon the last vestige of the Suharto state when President Habibie’s candidacy failed — and to accept a loosening of its grip on power when armed forces chief General Wiranto withdrew his own bid for the vice presidency — but it has succeeded against remarkable odds in managing a peaceful transition to democracy. It was General Wiranto who authored Suharto’s ouster and the slow democratization that has followed. He has won deep respect among Indonesia’s civilian politicians — and the international community — as a guarantor of democracy, and he’ll likely continue to wield considerable influence.


    "This ends the Suharto chapter of Indonesia’s history like a Javanese shadow-play opera," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "There’s all this suspense and drama, but it ends in harmony with everyone getting something out of the solution." And there was warm applause both inside Indonesia and from abroad, where Indonesia’s status as the West’s political and economic anchor in Asia had been imperiled by the events of the past 18 months.

    The drama had begun in the spring of 1998, when the Asian economic collapse plunged millions of Indonesians into desperate poverty and emboldened a pro-democracy protest movement to challenge the "corruption, collusion and nepotism" of the Suharto dictatorship. General Wiranto took charge of Indonesia’s armed forces as the financial vortex and increasingly violent street protests threatened to break apart the world’s fourth most populous country. In a dramatic late-night visit to the national palace, Wiranto persuaded Suharto to step down, and stood symbolically by as Vice President B. J. Habibie was sworn in as president.

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