In his first major address since being named Indonesia's president last week, Abdurrahman Wahid today outlined changes in domestic, defense and foreign policy and said he had to make "compromises" with the discredited ruling Golkar party to get his job.
He said his government would place more emphasis on improving living standards and closing the gap between rich and poor. He said the key would be to attract foreign investment.
He also said a top priority would be addressing the ethnic, sectarian and separatist violence that has erupted here since the Suharto government fell in May 1998, leaving hundreds dead in East Timor following an independence referendum, in Ambon, in the Moluccas (Spice Islands), as well as igniting secessionist insurgencies in the provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.
Speaking on the resort island of Bali, Wahid said he would appoint some Golkar members to his cabinet, but added that all of his ministers would have to uphold his commitment to end corruption and improve openness in government.
"To attain the presidency, I have to make compromises," said Wahid, speaking with surprising candor about how he became the country's fourth president. "And among the compromises, I have to take several people into my cabinet maybe from the past cabinet also."
His comments today seemed to confirm reports emerging from palace aides and other insiders that the new cabinet, to be named this week, will likely consist of the groups that coalesced around Wahid's candidacy--Golkar, which was the ruling political machine of former presidents Suharto and B.J. Habibie, and a coalition of Islamic groups.
Those forces came together to block the presidential bid of populist leader Megawati Sukarnoputri. But after her supporters rampaged through Jakarta and Bali, Megawati was made vice president, and now her party--the largest in the new parliament--will also demand cabinet positions.
The new cabinet is thus likely to reflect Wahid's attempts at forging a broad-based national unity government, but many analysts warn that it could become unruly, as rivalries and ideological differences surface. There are also worries that Wahid--nearly blind, diabetic and in poor health since brain surgery in 1998--may not be strong enough to impose his will on the warring camps.
Because of his failing eyesight--he can no longer read--he delivered his remarks extemporaneously for about 40 minutes.
Wahid said that his crisis-ridden economy would need outside help, so he would reform Indonesia's corrupt legal system to attract foreign capital.
He also said that he would put Megawati in charge of resolving the conflicts in Irian Jaya and Ambon, while he would concentrate on the rebellion in Aceh. "We will also concentrate on making Indonesia unified again," he said. "Look at Ambon. The Christians and the Muslims massacred each other. It's crazy. I don't want that to happen here in Bali." Bali is overwhelmingly Hindu in a country that is about 90 percent Muslim.
In Aceh, the secessionist movement is based on that province's more fundamentalist view of Islam, and Wahid attended a recent pro-independence rally there.
In an interview last month, Wahid said he attended the rally as a show of solidarity because the provincial governor had been preventing some Muslim clerics from staging the meeting. "It's a kind of self-defense mechanism," he said in the Sept. 18 telephone interview. "I think in the end they will become a small bunch of independence people."
Wahid also suggested he will take a more nationalist, and more Asia-oriented line in Indonesia's foreign policy. He said his first official trip abroad will be to China, with a stopover in Japan, and he said he plans to make brief, informal trips to neighboring Southeast Asian countries before a regional summit in November. But he did not mention traveling to Western countries, or to neighboring Australia.
Indonesia's relations with Australia have been badly strained by the crisis in East Timor and the dispatch of Australian-led peacekeepers to restore security last month after the territory voted to separate from Indonesia. In the past, Wahid has had tough words for Australia. In the Sept. 18 interview, he said Australian Prime Minister John Howard was leading the campaign to send foreign troops to East Timor because he "has a personal interest in seeing his popularity rise."
"But let's wait several months from now when the East Timor integration [anti-independence] people begin to kill them," Wahid said then. "When 10 of them are hit, that will change public opinion in Australia. . . . It will be like Somalia. It's more than Somalia. I know my people. They are angry." He was referring to the killing of U.S. soldiers during a peacekeeping operation in Somalia in 1993.
When he took his oath of office last Wednesday, Wahid hinted at a more nationalistic stance. "Even as we face fierce international competition during this difficult time, we will defend our territorial integrity, when other countries make light of our feelings and our honor," he said. "We cannot accept other countries and nations passing judgment on us."
CAPTION: A frail Wahid is helped by one of his daughters and an aide before giving his first major policy address.
CAPTION: Smoke fills the air of a Buddhist temple in Jakarta as an ethnic Chinese woman burns incense and offers prayers for Indonesia.