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From the October 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 10)


Stability, Economy, and Constitutional Reform

Mega, Put the "I" in Innovation


Denny JA, Kompas (independent), Jakarta, Indonesia, July 24, 2001.

The author is executive director of Jayabaya University in Jakarta.


The way former President Abdurrahman Wahid [Gus Dur] obtained his presidential seat is different from the way President Megawati Sukarnoputri did. Gus Dur became president after all major political parties had given him their full support. Megawati, however, was only half supported by the political parties. For example, the Islamic Awakening Party, which once supported her as a presidential candidate, now firmly opposes her. Gus Dur was toppled in the middle of his term of office, which leaves many unresolved problems for the new government. We can only hope that Megawati will not be forced to leave her presidential seat as Gus Dur was.

This hope can come true only if Megawati turns out to be a president with true innovation. An innovator is intent upon reforms that are compliant with the demands of the society, and also has the social skills and leadership necessary to unite different warring political groups in order to support her reforms. Without strong leadership, reforms cannot come to fruition, but exist only as ideals. Similarly, if she lacks the desire to make true reforms, Megawati’s leadership will return this nation to the past. Therefore, she can be successful as an innovator only if she is both reform-minded and able to lead.

First and foremost, Megawati must call on powerful leaders to achieve three goals that are motivated by the reform spirit. If she can achieve this, she can set a strong foundation for democracy in Indonesia.

First of all, Megawati and other leaders must establish a stable government until at least the year 2004. The government must avoid being disturbed by a constantly changing cabinet or parliament. Stable government is the main requirement for liberating a nation in crisis. No matter how well a new president performs, the programs will not work if the government is unstable.

In order to establish stability, Megawati must take two simultaneous moves. First, she must reconcile the powerful leaders of the former government with one another. In return, she will receive their support, and they will not use their influence to topple her. Megawati must also approach the prominent figures of Gus Dur’s government, including Gus Dur himself, the high-ranking military officials and businessmen from B.J. Habibie’s—Indonesia’s third president—administration, as well as those from Suharto’s government. She must compensate them according to their positions. For instance, an honorable position should be granted to Gus Dur, which he would probably accept.

Second, Megawati should strike a deal with other major political parties in parliament. She should give a certain number of ministerial seats to Poros Tengah [Axis Force, an informal coalition of Islamic parties], Golkar [Suharto’s party], and Islamic Awakening Party [Wahid’s party] proportionate to the number of seats each holds in the cabinet. If a party’s minister is to be replaced for some reason, the party chairman should select a candidate from his own party.

For the second goal, Megawati should call all chairmen of political parties in parliament to concentrate on one or two major programs only. One of the major programs is economic recovery. Without economic recovery, the transition to democracy will come to a deadlock. Megawati should ensure that the post for high-ranking officials in the ministry of economy is not given to members of the political parties. For example, Megawati should not let members of her own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party, fill positions in the ministry of economy. Important positions in the economy-related ministries should be given to professionals. Suharto entrusted the country’s economic issues to economists from the University of California, Berkeley; they became known as the “Berkeley Mafia.” Megawati too can adopt this strategy by creating her own “mafia” and allowing the new technocrats to handle the economy.

From now until 2004 will be the crucial transitional period. During this time, the ministry of economy will be a fertile field for tricky deeds like collusion, corruption, and nepotism if the post is given to political parties’ fellows. A conflict of interest could easily occur. Indonesia is currently plagued by an economic malaise, which is affecting the ability of political parties to finance their activities. It is assumed that a minister of economic affairs who is affiliated with a political party would be asked or even forced by his party to provide illegal funds for the party’s 2004 election campaign. This practice used to be customary in Suharto’s New Order. Only if political parties are completely separated from the ministry of economy can rivalrous conflicts of interest be avoided.

The third and final goal is for Megawati to reform the rules in the political system. Political competition can easily turn into extended conflict if no coherent rules are in place. The most important of these rules is the constitution. A weak constitution would turn the political system into a minefield; for instance, the ambiguity between the powers of the president and the parliamentary system in our present constitution have produced countless problems.

Megawati must call upon political party chairmen to form an independent commission for this task. Though the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) authorizes amendments to the constitution, the MPR could hand over its authority to the commission, which will have been formed by the MPR itself. The MPR will ratify the work of the committee once it is completed. The commission will consist of different professionals from different disciplines, not from different political parties. If required, the commission could hire an expert consultant to manage a stable transition of democracy. For instance, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela employed [political scientist] Arend Lipjhart to manage his governance.

Constructing a stable democratic system in a pluralistic society like Indonesia’s where communal conflict is prevalent is, indeed, not easy. Not surprisingly, a stable democracy has never occurred in Indonesia’s history. Only new and comprehensive constructions can solve this difficulty. To compel the political party chairmen to give approval to the three elements of this agenda is certainly not an easy task. However, it is where an innovator will show her skill. Her leadership will be a model and will gain respect from her political fellows or opponents.

As [U.S. President Bill] Clinton did, Megawati must form a think tank that knows how to guide Indonesia through this rough transitional period. Now, the chance to be recorded in history is open to Megawati. Her options, decisions, strategies, initiatives, and perceptions will determine the fate of her leadership in the end. If Bung Karno, the first president and Megawati’s father, succeeded in establishing the national foundation of Indonesia, Megawati will, hopefully, be remembered as the figure who successfully solidified the foundation of democracy in Indonesia.


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