Indonesia Erupts as Megawati Is Denied

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Megawati declined to play the game, and Indonesia now looks set for another season of living dangerously. Furious street protests erupted and one person was killed and dozens injured by two car bombs in Jakarta following Wednesday's election of Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesia's new president -- although Megawati Sukarnoputri had won a plurality of the votes in June's presidential election, she found herself outflanked in the national assembly mandated to choose the new president. Megawati's aloofness from the backroom wheeling-and-dealing prescribed by the complex electoral system cost her heavily, as 373 delegates opted for Wahid -- also known as Gus Dur -- against her 313 votes. Public hostility to the previous administration of President B.J. Habibie had rendered him an unviable candidate, but the shut-out of the populist Megawati proved that the country's traditional political elites still have extensive room for maneuver. "Megawati lost out in part because many of the Muslim parties refused to support a woman for president, and partly because she failed to effectively court support in the military and the existing power structure," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. Some of her closest aides had warned that she'd be unable to win if she maintained her refusal to dirty her hands in backroom dealing.

Wahid, a popular moderate Muslim cleric who had opposed the dictator Suharto but had subsequently called for national reconciliation, emerged as the compromise candidate for the military and other vested interests. Powerful armed forces chief General Wiranto appeared to concede that Habibie was an unviable candidate by refusing Monday to stand as his running mate, but the generals were reluctant to accept the populist Megawati. "Wahid’s ill health can be an advantage, because if like Haibibie, he fails to bring political stability, pressure can be brought on him to resign," says Dowell. "He potentially provides a more effective cover for Wiranto." As if to underscore the point, the general immediately offered to serve as Wahid’s vice president. But the military’s primary concern is stability, and it’s far from clear that Wahid’s election will satisfy the parliament of the streets.