APSN Banner

The people will return me to power, declares confident Wahid

New York Times - October 22, 2001

Seth Mydans, Jakarta – Less than three months ago Abdurrahman Wahid was swept from Indonesia's presidency on a wave of public exasperation after a truncated tenure that one prominent scholar calls one of the strangest periods in Indonesian history.

For three days – still grappling with reality, and losing – he squatted in his palace insisting that he remained the legal president. He has not changed his mind.

In a strange interview recently, Mr Wahid declared that he was not only the legal president but also the people's choice, and he said he could prove it. "I predict that in a short time, maybe at the end of this year, there will be a meeting point of several people. I will lead a junta with me as chairman to affect democratisation."

It was an unexpected assertion from a man who had succeeded in alienating almost everybody by the time the legislature voted him out of office on July 23, after just 21 months of his five-year term.

Almost from the start, Mr Wahid, one of Indonesia's leading Islamic clerics, had seemed out of touch with the realities of his struggling nation. Some people thought the two strokes he had suffered had affected his mind.

His style has not changed, though fewer people listen now as the nation plunges ahead without him into new crises, new political battles. And the workings of his mind remain as puzzling as ever.

During the interview his thoughts seemed to slip from one track to another as though a switch had failed. His answers sometimes seemed to respond to some private inner thought. At times they burst forth with confident assurance before the question had quite been asked. Blind from his strokes, Mr Wahid, 61, stared straight ahead, unmoving. But behind his placid expression his mind was clearly swirling with activity.

The woman he now calls a traitor, his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who served as his vice-president, was floundering, he said, and "I know that she is in need of me". "Whatever I say now, the people listen. The armed forces and the people listen. And Megawati listens as well because she cannot cope with the situation now."

He spoke with satisfaction of his political future. In the next presidential election, in 2004, he said, his party would rock Indonesia back on its heels with 58per cent of the vote. Last time around, in 1999, it won 10per cent. Any time now, he expected to be returned to power by acclaim. The parliament, backed by the military, "would be issuing a communique to return me to the presidency".

But before accepting the job he would demand a reform of the military promotion system and the arrest of five military and police commanders who disobeyed his orders in July to impose a state of emergency that would have kept him in power.

The former president Soeharto, 80, who now lives, sick and secluded, in his home, would be one of the key players in the changes to come, he said. "You know, Soeharto now is very angry," Wahid said. "Why? Because as he views it Megawati is bent on avenging her father." She is the daughter of Sukarno, Indonesia's founding president, whom Soeharto ousted in 1966.

"We can see that he is still wielding very, very great power," Mr Wahid said, adding that Soeharto's anger posed a threat to the country's stability. Mr Wahid's own role was to be the national peacemaker. "My work is to act, quote unquote, as light as possible, not too much damaging the country. If Soeharto and Megawati die together it will be trouble for us, for the whole country." He meant this literally, he said, "because they can, well, you know, the guards of both people can kill each other".

What did he miss most from his days in power? "The presidency was just a task to finish. I regret more the loss of my collection of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony – 27 CDs and tapes. The boy that was taking care of it ran away with it, and now I think it's for sale in the market."