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Top Muslim backs woman as president

South China Morning Post - November 20, 1997

Jenny Grant, Jakarta – Influential Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid says Indonesia should consider electing a woman as president.

President Suharto's eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana - known as Tutut - is tipped to become chairman of the ruling Golkar party.

The powerful entrepeneur is now deputy chairman.

"Some groups in society may want to nominate Tutut, while others want Megawati Sukarnoputri as candidates for state leader in the future," said Mr Wahid, the leader of the 30-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama organisation.

"In my opinion, it is not against Islamic teaching."

Ms Rukmana has also taken a lead role in the family after the death of her mother, Ibu Tien Suharto, last year.

Ms Megawati, the daughter of first president Sukarno, was ousted as leader of the Indonesian Democracy Party at a government and military-backed congress last year.

She maintains a strong grassroots following of millions of people in East Java and Bali despite being barred from parliament.

Mr Wahid previously had strong connections with Ms Megawati when he was a vocal supporter of pro-democracy issues.

The popular Muslim leader has been publicly criticised for switching camps to support the president's daughter during the May election campaign this year.

Earlier this year, Mr Wahid said he supported Ms Rukmana as a vice-presidential candidate because Indonesians would feel reassured if she could assume the leadership from her father.

Mr Suharto has been in power for the past 30 years. It is widely expected he will win a seventh term in office when the People's Consultative Assembly meets in March to elect a new president and deputy.

Mr Wahid, who has a degenerative eye disease, says he wants to step down before his chairmanship ends in 1999. Analysts here say rival leader Abu Hasan, believed to be backed by the military, may force himself into the leadership if Mr Wahid steps down early. Mr Hasan has set up a rival board.