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Assembly chooses Muslim leader Haz as Vice-president

Reuters - July 26, 2001

Achmad Sukarsono, Jakarta – Indonesian legislators on Thursday elected an unlikely deputy for their first female president – a Muslim politician who has said women are not fit to lead the world's largest Muslim nation.

The choice of United Development Party (PPP) chief Hamzah Haz underlines the potential instability in the fragile alliance that dumped Abdurrahman Wahid and replaced him with the daughter of founding President Sukarno on Monday. But Haz also provides crucial religious support that Megawati Sukarnoputri needs to survive in power – and only time will tell if he is a friend or foe, analysts say.

Sources said Haz's relationship with Megawati is cool and formal. "Megawati is very nationalistic therefore Hamzah Haz, theoretically, should provide a good mix," Lin Che Wei, head of research at SG securities, told Reuters.

Haz beat parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung by winning 340 votes among the 611 members of the top assembly who voted. Both men embraced and kissed after the result as legislators cheered. Haz is expected to be sworn in later on Thursday.

Just hours after sacking the country's first democratically elected leader, the nearly one dozen parties involved began squabbling over the spoils, an early warning Megawati's coalition could become as fractious as Wahid's.

PPP, the third largest party, had threatened it would not join the yet-to-be-announced cabinet if Megawati's old job went to Tandjung, who also heads Golkar, the second-largest party and former political tool of ousted autocrat Suharto.

Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) is the largest but does not command a majority.

PPP officials said Golkar already had enough power through holding the parliament speakership. Golkar is also still heavily tarnished by its links to Suharto. One MPR source has said a deal had earlier been struck to give Golkar extra ministries in return for Haz becoming vice president.

Key block to Megawati in 1999

After Megawati's party won the most votes in 1999's parliamentary election, Haz helped galvanise a Muslim alliance that crushed her presidential bid because she was a woman, and then lost heavily to her in a run-off for the vice presidency.

However, some analysts say his Islamic credentials could make a good partner to Megawati's more secular, nationalist views. As the supreme People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) was meeting, Wahid prepared to leave the Dutch-built presidential palace where he has remained holed up since being ousted. He will leave for the United States on Thursday for medical checks.

The selection of vice president has a crucial influence on the shape and tone of Megawati's administration because it reflects the forces and alliances she will have to factor in when she creates her cabinet. Haz's election and Wahid's departure may also seal Indonesia's first peaceful transition of power, which would provide a welcome boost to the battered economy.

Stocks and the rupiah rallied on Wahid's sacking, but have since shed some of their gains amid a reassessment of Megawati. After the relief at the lack of violence comes growing concern about her so-far untested abilities.

Politicians and analysts are urging the taciturn Megawati to announce a cabinet quickly and begin the herculean task of dragging the world's fourth most populous nation out of crisis. No precise timeframe has been set for naming the cabinet but it is expected within days.