Wahid had been a close friend and adviser of Megawati, but the moderate Muslim leader broke with the populist icon over her reliance on street protests as a political tool. The verdict of the international financial community is not yet in, however, because Wahid is more of a spiritual leader than a policy wonk and has given very little indication of his economic thinking, save for general statements about complying with IMF requirements. Although he led a coalition of Islamic parties that opposed giving the presidency to a woman, Wahid is considered relatively liberal and his insistence on ending social unrest made him a more comfortable option than Megawati for Indonesia's military and political elite. But by easing her into the vice presidency, that elite also appears to have calculated that they're better off bringing the favorite of the street protesters into the system than leaving her out in the cold.
Being "only a heartbeat away" from the presidency takes on added significance when the ailing president has suffered two strokes which is why the election Thursday of Indonesia's new vice president is a lot more than a formality. Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose shock defeat for the presidency in Indonesia's byzantine balloting system Wednesday set off a night of rioting, said she would take the job for "for the sake of the nation." Her path was cleared by an apparent consensus among the political elites that saw the withdrawal of two key rivals, armed forces chief General Wiranto and Akbar Tandjug, the head of former president B. J. Habibie's Golkar party. She also has the backing of newly elected President Abdurrahman Wahid.