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Will this stop the endless political bickering?

Straits Times - July 28, 2001

Hamzah Haz, leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim political party, was elected Vice-President on Thursday. In its editorial yesterday, The Jakarta Post wondered if he could work amicably with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, known for her nationalist and secular outlook. Below is an extract of the editorial, entitled "An Unlikely Duet".

Sceptics might call it the best of the worst outcomes possible. But then, many Indonesians also consider Thursday's outcome the best that could have been achieved under the country's current political constellation.

To be elected, Mr Hamzah Haz has had to defeat not only Mr Akbar Tandjung, but military candidates Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Agum Gumelar, and civilian politician Siswono Yudohusodo.

Many observers believe that to have Mr Akbar in the vice-presidential seat would have encumbered rather than helped President Megawati Sukarnoputri in carrying out her duties, which no one disputes as being colossal. Indeed, many Jakartans believed it wise to prepare themselves for massive demonstrations should Mr Akbar have been elected.

Mr Hamzah, on the other hand, is an experienced politician. But he comes from what observers might describe as a conservative Muslim background, while Ms Megawati's strong nationalist and secular outlook is well known.

It may be recalled how, during the run-up to the 1999 general election, Mr Hamzah, together with several other Muslim groups, promoted the idea that Islam forbids a woman from becoming president. The question that now begs to be asked is whether his present turnaround merely constitutes a political tactic that, in time, will prove to be detrimental to Megawati's presidency.

We certainly hope not. After all, in the past, Muslims and nationalists have worked together fruitfully and effectively for the good of the nation.

To endlessly continue the present bickering among political factions would only mean prolonging the hardships under which 210 million Indonesians must live. It is time that this country's politicians start putting the nation's and the people's interests above their own.