At Last, Indonesia's Megawati Makes a Move

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Stability is one concern that unites all of Indonesia’s elites, and that may make Megawati Sukarnoputri the country’s next president. The opposition leader, who won the biggest share of the vote –- 34 percent –- in the June 7 election, on Thursday broke her silence and demanded the reins of power. Megawati had remained circumspect during the subsequent glacial vote count as backroom negotiations continued among the country’s power centers, including the military, the ruling Golkar party (which polled 22 percent) and a plethora of smaller parties. Thursday’s announcement follows indications that the military may have offered to back her in November’s electoral assembly, in exchange for making armed forces commander General Wiranto her vice president. Despite its traditional relationship with the dictator Suharto and Golkar, the military is concerned that denying Megawati the presidency would provoke widespread instability. Thousands of her supporters last week demand that she be elected president by signing petitions in their own blood.

It was the military’s concern to put an end to last year’s riots that led General Wiranto to gently nudge Suharto out of power and to commit the country to elections. But Suharto’s handpicked heir, President B.J. Habibie, and his Golkar party potentially have sufficient support in the electoral assembly -- due to set-asides for the military and regional representatives -- to block Megawati’s accession. Despite her call for Suharto to be prosecuted for abuses of power, there’s unlikely to be an accord on her taking the presidency unless she gives some guarantee of immunity to the masters of the old order. So, Megawati’s public insistence on being given the presidency either reflects an emerging consensus for stability -– or the opening salvo of another season of political turmoil.