Election of Wahid and Megawati as Indonesian President and Vice President marks the triump of the  forces of reform over the status quo in Indonesian politics

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The election of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesian Vice President, a day after the election of Abdurrahman Wahid as Indonesian President, marks the triump of the forces of reform over the status quo in Indonesian politics.

Wahid has strong reformist credentials. He was an outspoken critic of former President Suharto, the authoritarian leader who ruled the country for more than 30 years. He launched an early reform group, the Democracy Forum, long before Megawati Sukarnoputri captured the imagination of Indonesia's opposition forces.

The choice of a partially blind Islamic cleric as Indonesia’s  fourth president is stoking fears of an increasingly religious and isolated, if not intolerant, Indonesia. But the record of Wahid points to a man firmly committed to a secular and inclusive Indonesia, grounded in the global economy.

Many consider him to be the nation's moral conscience. He leads the country's largest Moslem organisation, the 35 million-strong Nahdlatul  Ulama (NU), but is thoroughly secular in outlook, always preaching respect for other religions and urging protection for Indonesia's economically  important Chinese minority.

Despite being revered as an Islamic scholar -- he studied in Egypt and Iraq -- he has steadfastly fought against any intrusion of religion into Indonesia's political affairs. And he has consistently stated his fears that a more democratic Indonesia could tear apart the country's delicate social fabric, if the dominant Muslim masses override the wishes of minorities and those Indonesians hailing from outside Java.

In an interview earlier this year, Wahid said that "Islam should be used only as a moral force to foster democracy, not as an overtly political tool".  Wahid had also declared that "Equal treatment of all citizens is the only way to bring Indonesia out of crisis".

Wahid has insisted faith is a personal matter and been against institutionalizing Islam within the state, and has worked to promote cooperation among religious faiths - and  earned respect among the non-Muslim community, including Christians and Indonesia’s Chinese minority.

It is hoped that Wahid’s  track record of racial and religious tolerance will serve as the cornerstone for his efforts to kick-start Indonesia's decimated economy,  begin the process of national reconciliation and implement the various policies he had advocated, as granting greater economic autonomy to Indonesia's provinces, weeding out corruption and setting up an independent judicial system.


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong