Gus Dur’s Govt


Indonesia’s new President Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, is a moderate Muslim intellectual whose government will work towards uniting all groups in the ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse country.

* Broad-based and pragmatic
* Will include Muslim modernists
* Adherence to Pancasila
* Policies to be strong on social justice
* Understanding of Chinese community
* Won’t be hands-on economic manager
* Good working ties with Wiranto
* Pro-Asean orientation to remain


NEWLY-ELECTED President Abdurrahman Wahid will set up a broad-based and pragmatic coalition government clear on social and religious policies but hazy, perhaps, on how to deal with former President Suharto and the baggage of the New Order regime.

A month before clinching the prized presidential post, he told The Straits Times in an interview that if he led a new administration, he would draw up his Cabinet from key elements in the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (Struggle) (PDI-P) and Golkar.

It would also include several Muslim modernists.

“Everyone needs to be accommodated so that we can achieve political stability,” said the Islamic scholar.

Such thinking underpinned by a strong adherence to the state Pancasila ideology of tolerance is said to fuel his fundamental aim of uniting the sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands and the diversity of ethnic and religious groups.

Commenting on the sporadic violence across the country and the prevailing sociocultural and ideological divisions, Mr Wahid said: “I have always tried to put an end to problems that might exist between Muslim groups and with other minorities.

“If we allow it to fester, it will only hurt the country more.”

That explains why the new government, with a mix of members from the purist and orthodox traditions of Islam, might be able to accommodate the different strands of Indonesian society where 90 per cent of the population are Muslims.

Political analysts believe that Mr Wahid, known affectionately as Gus Dur and by some observers as the Yoda of Indonesian politics, would be best placed to implement social and religious policies to force the genie of violence back into the bottle.

His experience as head of the 30-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim group in Indonesia, gives him an edge on coming up with concrete policy proposals he has advocated before to redress inter-religious problems.

Noted a Western diplomat: “There will be a concerted attempt to prevent the mistakes of the New Order government where lines are drawn in the sand to divide society.”

His economic policies are likely to flow from his domestic agenda, favouring left-leaning policies that are strong on social justice but with a keen understanding of the importance of the ethnic Chinese community in resuscitating the nation’s battered economy.

Mr Wahid, who has close ties with several ethnic Chinese mainly from the Jakarta-based think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, admitted that Indonesia would not be able to recover if the Indonesian-Chinese did not put their money back into the country. “They are very crucial and so we have to get them to return,” he said.

Western diplomats believe Mr Wahid is likely to continue similar macro-economic policies of past regimes and be pragmatic in his dealings with the International Monetary Fund and other aid agencies.

But overall, he will not be a hands-on economic manager.

His principal focus will be the domestic political arena which has two areas where he might be susceptible to “external” pressures.

He is expected to deal leniently with former presidents Suharto and B.J. Habibie.

Indeed, it is very clear that support for Mr Wahid was strongest from these two camps which preferred him to the “revolutionary” PDI-P leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.

He would also have an eye on not upsetting armed forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto, who would not be interested in prosecuting Mr Suharto and his family.

He boasts a good working relationship with Gen Wiranto and the TNI that goes back several years.

However, the scholar has expressed several times that the military should minimise its role in politics.

As President, he might make 2004 the deadline for the TNI to return to the barracks.

On foreign policy, there is no strong indication of his thinking, save for what may be some short-term features.

Most conspicuous here is his irritation with Australia for taking sides in the East Timor referendum and supporting a UN force into the troubled territory.

Said Mr Wahid: “We are very angry. We feel humiliated for what they have done to us.

“The Australians seem to be scared of us. There is no need for them to do so. We are not a threatening country.

“If I become President, I will recall the Indonesian ambassador and cool diplomatic ties until a new administration comes into power in Canberra.”

Of key interest will be his policy on the Middle East, given the time he has spent there and his flirtation with recognising Israel.

But over the long term, the basic Asean-centric orientation of the Suharto regime will probably reassert itself.

Singapore will factor largely in Mr Wahid’s thinking, given his close ties with leaders in the Republic.

He made it clear during earlier interviews with The Straits Times that Singapore was a “friend” and that he had on several occasions tried to persuade the Habibie government to “discard its jealousy of Singapore’s accomplishments”.

Mr Wahid is likely to be constrained in his duties by his ailing health.

The frail, nearly blind cleric suffered a stroke earlier this year.

He had also undergone eye surgery in the US recently.

For now, however, he believes he is up to the job.

He told reporters after a medical check up on the eve of the presidential poll:

“Everything has been examined … stomach, kidney, blood, mental and memory assessment. Everything is good, excellent.”


* Born on Aug 4, 1940, into a widely-respected prominent Muslim family in Jombang, East Java.
* Father Wahid Hasyim was a former Minister of Religion and grandfather Hasyim Asyari was a founder of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), one of Indonesia’s
largest Islamic organisations.
* After completing secondary education, he taught at the pesantren (Islamic boarding school)in Jombang.
* In 1970, went for further education, taking up higher Islamic and Arabic studies at Al-Azhar University, Cairo. Also studied at the Arts faculty at Baghdad University in Iraq.
* When he returned home, he became lecturer and dean at the Faculty of Islamic Law, Hasyim Ashari University, in Jombang and then became secretary of a major Islamic school in Java.
* In 1979, set up Ciganjur Pesantren, South Jakarta.
* In 1984, became chairman of the executive council of NU, the conservative Muslim grassroots organisation, which claims 40 million members in a nation of 210 million people.
* Has served three straight terms as NU’s chief executive.
* Married Nuriyah while still studying in Baghdad in 1968. They have four children.
* In January last year, suffered a stroke, which left him frail and half blind.

All the President’s men

Derwin Pereira looks at the possible makeup of the the new Indonesian government – the personalities and their possible portfolios:

General Wiranto – Vice-President Currently armed forces (TNI) chief, who is considered to have played a key role in influencing the outcome of the presidential election.

Lieutenant-General Bambang Yudhoyono – Defence Minister/Armed forces chief One of the rising stars of the military and known to be the torchbearer for reform in the TNI.

Mr Akbar Tanjung (Golkar) – State Secretary Served under the Suharto and Habibie administrations. Led the charge within Golkar to replace Dr Habibie.

Mr Yusril Ihza Mahendra (Crescent Star Party) – Justice Minister Advisor of former president B.J. Habibie and also former speechwriter of Mr Suharto. A lawyer by profession, he is a member of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI).

Mr Ginandjar Kartasasmita (Golkar) – Coordinating Minister for Economy and Finance Served in Suharto and Habibie administrations and a key figure in dealing with the International Monetary Fund.

Mr Kwik Kian Gie (Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle) – Minister for Finance Key economic advisor to Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Mr Laksamana Sukardi (Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle) – Governor of Bank Indonesia Post-graduate education in the US and former senior member of the Lippo Bank.

Prof Juwono Sudarsono (Golkar) – Foreign Minister Served under Suharto and Habibie administrations as environment and education ministers respectively.

Mr Marzuki Darusman (Golkar) – Education Minister Currently deputy chairman of Golkar party and head of the national human rights commission. Regarded as one of the leading reformers in Indonesian politics today.

Professor Dimyati Hartono (Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle) – Interior Minister A former civil servant in the Interior Minister and expert on law of the sea.

Dr Amien Rais (National Mandate Party) – Chairman of the Supreme Advisory Council Islamic scholar who leads the second largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, the Muhammadiyah. Played a key role in elevating President Abdurrahman Wahid to power.

His views on issues

Vested interests ‘We cannot think only about our own interests, because the state does not belong only to a certain group.’

Need for an opposition ‘We need a high-quality opposition to correct and to control.’

His opponent, Megawati ‘I very much respect Sister Mega because even though she knows I am frail, she never used it against me.’

The armed forces ‘My impression is that the armed forces will see what the civilians do. However, if the civilians fail, the armed forces will obviously see a reason to act, and do so to save the country.’

Himself ‘I am not a politician. I chose my profession to be in Nahdlatul Ulama. Like in the US, you can’t say Martin Luther King was a politician.’

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