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Muqtedar Khan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Adrian College in
Michigan. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations, Political Philosophy, and
Islamic Political Thought, from Georgetown University in May 2000.
Dr. Khan's column has
appeared in The Daily Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, Detroit Free Press, Detroit
News, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Muslim Democrat,
Iviews.com,ptimes.com, Theglobalist.com, Freerepublic.com, MiddleEast Online,
Beliefnet.com, Arabies Trends, Al-Mustaqbal, and many other periodicals world wide.
For a comprehensive resume click here: Resume
Between Pain and Power
Transition: Challenges and Expectations
A Poor Muslim Democracy
Global Policy without Global Vision
Palestinian Militants Make Another Point
Missile Defense: A
Fraud Against Taxpayers?
Arab-Americans lose faith in Bush
Why Peacekeepers are Necessary in
US Must be Firm but Fair with China
Mideast Policy takes turn for the Worse
Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.
Megawati Sukarnoputri has finally
fulfilled her destiny to return to the Presidential palace on her own right. The
Indonesian Presidential palace was her home for two decades, 1945-1965, when her father
also the father of Indonesian independence, was President. She sure would have preferred a
better time to realize her lifelong dream. At the moment Indonesia is facing some of the
gravest economic and political challenges of its short history.
Indonesias economy has
still not recovered from the Asian crisis. Indonesia is a textbook case of what all can go
wrong with globalization. Economic liberalization allowed foreign capital to come in but
also allowed it to bail out as soon as the first signs of a possible crisis loomed.
Capital flight and decline in investor confidence dried up foreign direct investments and
Indonesian economy was reduced to about one third of what it was in 1996. While
anti-globalists blamed capital flight for the crisis, globalists blamed Indonesias
inept banking system for the crisis.
Megawatis first task would
be to continue the IMF initiated restructuring of the banking system as well as restore
investor confidence. This will not be easy given the state of US and Japanese economies.
Most anti-globalization activists
argue that economic crisis have extensive social and political consequences. Their best
case in point is Indonesia. Once the economy collapsed political violence, ethnic strife,
religious conflict and secessionist movements simply exploded. In just a few years the
government has piled up an international debt in the vicinity of $70 billion.
Megawatis second task will
be to stabilize Indonesia and maintain its political integrity. Megawati has a reputation
for being strongly nationalist and may very well allow the Indonesian army greater freedom
to suppress resistance in places like Aceh. But this will attract international
condemnation and may not bode well for her diplomatic and economic goals.
Finally Megawati will have to
sustain the consensus in Indonesian politics that removed Wahid and installed her as
President. Her biggest challenge would be bridging the gap between Islamic parties and
Megawati is neither a charismatic
nor politically very astute. Her only assets are her lineage and the fact that in the last
elections she had got more votes than any other candidate including Wahid. Her only ally
is her legitimacy and perhaps the military, which would find her nationalism useful for
The silver lining in the current
Indonesian transition is the surprising durability of Indonesian democracy even in the
face of political and economic emergency. The constitutional script was played out and
Megawati was handed power.
Indonesia is 80% Muslim and it
now joins Pakistan and Bangladesh as Muslim democracies who have had a woman head of
state. Muslims are often accused of marginalizing women from the public arena, and for not
producing democracies. But Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation (with 180 million Muslims)
has exposed both the fallacies. Some cynics may argue that she is president because of who
her father was. I would like to remind them that the same could be said of the current
president of the worlds oldest and the best democracy.
Another remarkable aspect of
Indonesian transition is the second instance of an Islamist leader giving up power in
keeping with democratic norms. The first instance was when N. Erbakan of Turkey gave up
his Prime Ministership. Many critics of Islamic resurgence have argued that Islamists only
believe in one vote one time. This slogan was used to justify the intervention of the
military junta when Islamists won elections in Algeria. Erbakan and now Wahid have
disproved this Islamophoebic hypothesis that Islamists are insincere about democracy.
American response to the
transition has been positive. President Bush has welcomed the new developments. However
there remains a gap between how the State Department and the Pentagon wish to respond. The
Pentagon wishes to rush in and resume its extensive ties with Indonesian military.
Indonesia is an American ally against the rising military power of China in the Far East.
It is also the guardian of the shipping lanes of the region.
The State Department is more
cautious. They wish to see Indonesia comply with several demands, including legal
proceedings against military personnel allegedly involved in atrocities against East
It is in the interest of the US
to ensure that not only Megawati prevails but also that Indonesia recovers rapidly.
Indonesia is pivotal to Asian stability and American national interests in the region
uneasy over increasing Chinese and Russian collaboration. In this case clearly US military
and economic interests clash with US desire to improve human rights in Indonesia. A stable
and not so free Indonesia is any day better than one where chaos and anarchy reigns
Megawati will have to manage her
diplomatic relations as delicately as her domestic relations. If she can stabilize
Indonesia and bring in some foreign aid/investments immediately then she may survive.
Being the only alternative can take her to the Presidential palace but it will not be
enough to keep the mansion.
It remains to be seen if Megawati
will prove to be Indonesias Indira Gandhi.
Challenges and Expectations