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Megawati takes presidency in Indonesia, but ousted Wahid won’t vacate palace

SHARE Megawati takes presidency in Indonesia, but ousted Wahid won’t vacate palace

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Seizing the reins of power once held by her father, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri began her first full day in office Tuesday. But the presidential palace was still occupied by her ousted predecessor, who has refused to leave.

The capital Jakarta and other major cities were calm and the currency markets continued to soar on news of the change in leadership in the world's fourth-most populous country.

"We have high hopes for Megawati," said Sugeng Sugito, a 42-year-old bus conductor. "She does not have much experience but we hope she will be good."

Meanwhile, Indonesia's elites jockeyed for the vice president's position and Cabinet posts in Megawati's new government. Party leaders, generals and other politicians filed through her downtown office congratulating her and discussing appointments.

The legislature on Monday voted unanimously to sack Abdurrahman Wahid and elect Megawati, the 54-year-old daughter of founding president Sukarno.

Wahid had repeatedly warned that his ouster would trigger violent protests and the immediate secession of six restive provinces, but that hasn't happened.

Nor has there been any major public jubilation for Megawati, who served as Wahid's vice president and is considered Indonesia's most popular politician because of her party's first place showing in the nation's first free elections in 1999.

Despite her popularity, there is widespread concern about Megawati's leadership mettle and her close ties to the military, which has a history of human rights abuses, corruption and interference in politics.

Megawati earned praise in the mid-1990s for standing up to former dictator Suharto, the five-star general who brought down Sukarno in 1966. But some believe her rise reflects more of an elite power struggle than a commitment to the common good.

"I am hoping that the Megawati forces will come to their senses and realize that this is not simply about power, but also about how to make a difference," said Andi Mallarangeng, a political analyst in Jakarta.

Indonesia's major political players, including the military, supported Megawati's ascension to the presidency. The national assembly voted her in with a 591-0 vote, although the proceedings were boycotted by about 100 pro-Wahid legislators.

Wahid, a nearly blind Muslim cleric who has suffered two strokes, remained holed up in the presidential palace Tuesday, and no one knew if and when he would leave.

"Wahid will not leave the palace," said his spokesman, Adhi Massardi. "Wahid still feels that he is the president of Indonesia, legally and morally."

He added, however, that the former president understood he had little political support left. Wahid's aides confirmed that presidential guards had left the palace, though a police and army presence remained. The aides also said Wahid will speak publicly on Wednesday evening.

Amien Rais, the national assembly speaker who orchestrated Wahid's impeachment on corruption and incompetence charges, said Wahid should be persuaded, not forced, to vacate the palace.

Akbar Tandjung, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, also said he would like to avoid force "but if he stays there we can ask the police to remove him."

Wahid has made no public statement since his ouster Monday afternoon. He did, however, briefly appear at the palace doors late in the day. Wearing shorts and slippers, he waved to several hundred supporters standing outside the palace gates.

He was also seen being driven around the palace grounds in a private car after his limousine was taken away.

Mallarangeng said Megawati's first order of business should be to "reach out to Wahid's supporters, who are very emotional, and start the healing process."

Megawati is expected to announce a new Cabinet in the next few days. Many hope it will consist of technocrats capable of steering Indonesia out of an economic crisis, reversing Wahid's failed attempts to reform the banking sector and attract foreign investors.

The three leading candidates for vice president represent old order forces from the military, Muslim parties and Suharto backers — raising concerns about Megawati's commitment to reform.

After emerging from a meeting with Megawati on Tuesday, Rais said that the new vice president would be elected Wednesday. "Megawati has no preference about who becomes vice president," he said.

The new president's greatest challenge will likely be holding together the sprawling Southeast Asian nation of 210 million people that her expansionist father helped create.

President Bush, who praised the peaceful transfer of power, said Monday he looked forward to working with Megawati "to address Indonesia's challenges of economic reform, a peaceful resolution of separatist challenges and maintaining territorial integrity."