Winds of change sweep Indonesia

JAKARTA, SEPT. 2. A new democracy is gradually replacing the ``new order'' Government of Gen. Suharto in Indonesia. Replete with challenges, this ``new democracy'' in Indonesia is under constant test from within.

After 32 long years of the ``new order'', a free Indonesian people are able to express their views and articulate their concerns. In the towns and villages, there is a new glasnost, which can be felt by visitors.

The celebration of democracy; the spirit of change is evident. From students to workers, everyone has something to say about their country and Government, a sign of a vibrant, though troubled, nation.

Expectations are high among the people for constitutional changes and reforms in the bureaucracy, a task which proves to be quite daunting for the new Cabinet of the President, Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid.

It is not as if Mr. Wahid (better know by his nickname of ``Gus Dur'') doesn't have his share of critics. But, in real terms, despite the fact that his party has a minuscule share of seats in Parliament, the TINA (there is no alternative) factor operates heavily in his favour.

Also, the President has benefited as a result of differences between the Golkar Party, tied to Gen. Suharto, and the Vice- President, Ms. Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

In Jakarta, critics of the new Government abound. They bemoan the lack of leadership, the inability to provide governance. Human rights activists have taken the Wahid Government to task for not naming the then Army commander, Gen. Wiranto, as an accused responsible for last year's violence in East Timor.

A former Governor of the province, however, is among the 19 accused by the Government, a step necessary to meet growing international criticism for Indonesia's perceived failure not to bring the culprits to book.

In a sense, this decision of the Government is quintessential of the new democracy. Half steps are taken, often under pressure. Democracy is taking the first faltering steps in a country bent by the burden of authoritarianism.

While critics will have their say, there is little doubt that democracy needs time to take firm root in the country. Almost everyone lived under the shadow of Gen. Suharto, and it will take time to reform State institutions.

The decision to gradually phase out the military from being represented in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which elects the President, also reflects that ``phasing out'' is possible, outright removal is not.

If the President and Ms. Megawati can develop a good working partnership, following the latest devolution of duties to the Vice-President, backed by a team of Ministers who have good coordination, then some of the pressures on Indonesia will reduce.

``Domestic stability has still to be achieved. I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether Mr. Wahid will be President in 2004 (when elections are due). It depends on his performance and the ability to work together,'' a political science Professor in Jakarta told this correspondent.

``The new Cabinet has a better chance of succeeding as it is peopled by the President's nominees. The last one was pulling in different directions. Of course, we must wait to evaluate the performance of the new team,'' a newspaper editor maintained.

A country, which has major problems in Aceh, Irian Jaya and Maluku, needs a sensitive leadership, a team which can help heal the wounds of the past and, simultaneously, develop hitherto neglected regions of the country like Irian Jaya.

``Yes, it is true that the island of Java has exploited other parts of the country (archipelago). We need to change all that. The Government must hold talks with these regions and a new autonomy must be devolved. If this is not done soon, then things could get difficult in the months and years ahead,'' the Professor stated.

The Government's handling of the Suharto trial has also drawn considerable flak. Critics point out that the former dictator, who is genuinely said to be ill, is not being tried for his crimes as head of State. The corruption charges don't relate to his duties as President, but as head of some Government-linked foundations.

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