Nearly four months after the first free and fair elections in four decades, Indonesia’s new Parliament, the People’s Consultative Assembly, convened Friday. The opening session marked a new era in the nation’s politics. The MPR, as the Parliament is known, is being seated at a difficult time. Indonesia is deeply divided. It is up to the new assembly to unite the country and restore democracy, peace and stability.
Its first order of business is selection of the next president. Although Ms. Megawati Sukarnoputri emerged as the front-runner after the June vote, there is no guarantee she will be selected. Some Muslims object to a woman as the country’s head, and the military, which exercises considerable power, harbors doubts about her fitness for the job. The armed forces would prefer to see its head, Gen. Wiranto, in the post. There are rumors of a deal that would make him vice president.
Trust in Indonesian political institutions is brittle. The outbreak of violence after the East Timor referendum, and the introduction of international peacekeepers has been a national humiliation. The attempt to ram legislation giving the government special emergency powers through the previous assembly reminded many Indonesians that old habits die hard: The old order will not give up its perquisites without a fight.
The new assembly must regain the people’s trust. It must reject the back-room bargains, corruption and antidemocratic politics that characterized the reign of former President Suharto. Anything less will betray the hopes that drove thousands of people into the streets in protest a year and a half ago and ousted Mr. Suharto. The failure to break with the past will only prolong Indonesia’s pain and instability.
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