Indonesia's liberals fear new President's military ties could undermine democracy

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Megawati Sukarnoputri spent her first full day as Indonesian President yesterday planning her new cabinet while her disgraced predecessor refused to leave the palace.

On Monday, many ordinary Indonesians breathed a sigh of relief when Mrs Megawati, 54, was elected to the presidency in place of the disgraced Abdurrahman Wahid. But many liberals are worried. They believe the new President is a conservative whose commitment to justice and democracy is secondary to her belief in a strong and united Indonesia.

They are suspicious of her close relationship with the Indonesian military and the business conglomerates who did so well under the New Order regime of the dictator Suharto, who was ousted in 1998. They believe that in the absence of firm convictions of her own, she will be used by others. Arbi Sanit, a politics professor at the University of Indonesia, said: "She's simply not bright enough to understand the problems we face, and I don't believe in her management capabilities."

One of the difficulties in understanding Mrs Megawati is that she herself says so little in public. Her political convictions, as far as they can be grasped, consist mainly in her passionate belief in the unity of Indonesia, the state founded by her father, Sukarno.

Unlike Mr Wahid, who was outspoken in his belief in religious, racial and national tolerance, she has said little to commit herself to human rights or press freedom.But the organisation of her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), gives some idea of her political style.

A shift has taken place within the party as newcomers – many of them refugees from the New Order and from Suharto's Golkar party – have changed their loyalties to the PDI-P. Critics point to Arifin Panigoro, a businessman and former Suharto "crony" who leads the PDI-P's parliamentary members; and to Mrs Megawati's husband, Taufiq Kiemas, who has been accused of involvement in shady business deals.

The greatest cause of concern is Mrs Megawati's closeness to the military, which perpetrated the cruellest excesses of the New Order regime. It was the military's desertion of Mr Wahid that handed her the presidency.There are also signs are that she will revive Indonesia's information ministry which censored the press until it was abolished two years ago.

But after three years of turmoil, perhaps it is not surprising that Indonesians should be nostalgic for a time of greater stability, even if it was the stability of dictatorship.