Wahid hands over the running of Indonesia to deflect criticism

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The Independent Online

Abdurrahman Wahid, the floundering President of Indonesia, has agreed to hand over the daily supervision of government to his deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in an effort to divert bitter criticism of his leadership and personality.

Abdurrahman Wahid, the floundering President of Indonesia, has agreed to hand over the daily supervision of government to his deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri, in an effort to divert bitter criticism of his leadership and personality.

Ms Megawati, the country's most popular politician, will manage the Cabinet and beresponsible for designing and implementing policy. Mr Wahid will retain ultimate authority and concentrate on foreign relations. "I understand the need to change the management of the government," he told the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), Indonesia'slegislative body. "Because of this I will ask the Vice-President to carry out daily technical duties."

The concession came at the end of three uncomfortable days for Mr Wahid, a moderate Muslim scholar who defeatedMs Megawati last October to become Indonesia's first genuinely democratic president.

He came to power amid an atmosphere of optimism and excitement, but the goodwill towards him has evaporated after 10 months of bad management, eccentric and contradictory statements, and alarming allegations of corruption in the presidential palace.

In a speech opening the MPR session on Monday, Mr Wahid apologised for his failures, but over the next two days a succession of factional leaders in the MPR demanded concrete changes to overcome the sense of drift that has enveloped the government. "We know that the President has physical handicaps, so there should be a way of compensating by maximising the functions of the Vice-President," Akbar Tandjung, Indonesia's parliamentary speaker, said yesterday.

The 60-year-old Mr Wahid has suffered several minor strokes and is almost blind, relying on aides and members of his family to read state documents to him. He nodded off several times during yesterday's proceedings, as heinevitably does on such occasions, as well as in the presence of official visitors,

The question now is whether Ms Megawati is capable of doing any better than the President. As the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-P), and the daughter of the country's founding president, Sukarno, she is the most adored politician in the country, but opinions are divided on her political skills. The PDI-P won the largest share of seats in last summer's elections, although it failed to achieve an outright majority and was outmanoeuvred in the MPR, where the president is elected.

For all her popularity, she is a reticent and inscrutable politician who has failed to make any impact as VicePresident. Her supporters claim that she has been working behind the scenes, placating Mr Wahid's critics and winning the co-operation of senior officers in the powerful Indonesian armed forces. But many people regard her reluctance to speak out as timidity, and predict that her enhanced powers will bring little improvement to the country.

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