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Megawati's loss shows she lacked tactical grip

While Asian governments were quick to respond positively to the election of Indonesia's new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, Megawati's loss shows she lacked tactical grip. John Howard reports.

Megawati Sukarnoputri proved her own worst enemy when the presidential prize went to her former friend and ally, Abdurrahman Wahid.

It was more a case of her losing than him winning.

"The Sukarno myth may be broken beyond repair," Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, a former environment minister and Megawati adviser said.

"She should show leadership in defeat," he added.

Instead of a new government representing the tradition of secular nationalism in Indonesia, Mr Wahid's win shows the growing strength of politicians who adopt the "Muslim first" stance.

It is the rise of the intellectual ummat (Islamic people), Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Islamic Students' Association (HMI) which are the largest Islamic groupings in Indonesia.

Amien Rais, a former leader of Muhammadiyah, and Mr Wahid (better known as Gus Dur), still the leader of NU, have shown their political skills and broad support since Parliament opened over two weeks ago, making Mr Rais MPR chairman and Mr Wahid president.

"But all of them have developed non-sectarian political parties. They are all santri (deeply religious) but at the same time outward-looking," said Ms Anwar of the Muslim politicians.

But this does not mean the end of the loathed Suharto-era "New Order. " The New Order has many faces and many members of the new Parliament retain links, either through the military or other personal ties, to the Suharto era.

One scholar of Islam in politics, who did not want to be named, was in despair. "We now have a cleric in charge, supported by all the other clerics and the military are in there too," he said.

Unlike Megawati, Wahid has a sharp mind and political experience. Analysts, however, are having trouble deciding to what extent the presidential vote was an exercise in new democracy. Mr Wahid is the one candidate who did not run for office in the June polls. He was only nominated at the last minute, in contrast to Ms Megawati's 34 percent share of the vote in June.

However, the vote in Parliament was clean, open and rigorously watched, and even departing members of Megawati's party said simply: "We lost, but it was democratic."

A key failing of Ms Megawati, apart from her inability to do practical politics when it counts, was her inability to change her image from that of a Christian-influenced, secular politician.

She is a Muslim but also a woman, which counted against her in Islamic politics, and the majority of her party officers and legislators are Christian, while half her family background is Balinese-Hindu.

This finally gave her opponents a stick strong enough to break her.


ends

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