In Indonesia, the Knives Are Out

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In Indonesia, protesters warn of potential military involvement in politics Indonesia's beleaguered President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday offered to share power with his more popular deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri, but she turned him down. With the military backing Megawati and the political elite having turned on Wahid, how long can the president hold on?

Tim McGirk: Indonesia's parliament is to decide next week whether to convene a special session to impeach President Wahid, and they're almost certain to go ahead. That special session is likely to go ahead in July or August. Until then, Wahid will be doing everything in his power to win support from other parties. His own party controls only 10 percent of the seats, and he won the presidency with support from other parties who wanted to keep out Megawati, who won the most votes in the election. But his prospects of winning the support necessary to stay in power look very bleak.

Why are all these parties that voted against Megawati now ready to support her?

It's simply opportunism. They realize that Wahid will fall, and believe that if they ally themselves with Megawati, who is fairly malleable, they'll get more in terms of cabinet seats and plush appointments. And they're also gambling that Megawati is very weak, and that she won't last very long, either. Then, other contenders will take advantage of the ensuing chaos to make their own bid for power.

Why is military backing Megawati if she's politically weak? The military have long been held to be the guarantor of Indonesia's stability, and they can't be comfortable with the turmoil that has continued, almost uninterrupted, since the fall of the Suharto regime…

Yes, but on the other hand, the generals may be quite happy to see a week president, because that would give them more power. The military is going to move to fill any political vacuum that arises, and nobody believes that Megawati will last very long. And waiting for her to fail are, on the one hand, ambitious politicians like parliamentary speaker Amien Rais, and on the other hand, the generals.

What are the implications of either scenario for Indonesia's immediate future?

It looks like a prolonged crisis, in which everything that looks bad right now only gets worse. This is not a climate that will encourage foreign investment. All around you see symptoms of collapse. There has been a 200 percent rise in piracy in Indonesian waters. In Jakarta, it has gotten so bad with robberies that if anyone catches a robber in their house, often the neighbors are called and the man is lynched or burned to death on the spot.

How long can the military tolerate the situation?

Not long at all. First, they want to get rid of Wahid, then give Megawati some semblance of an opportunity to rule. And then, when it looks like things don't get better, they'll make their own move.