Toronto Globe & Mail, May 16, 1998

Megawati Sukarno:  Daughter of Indonesia’s only other president, Sukarno, is labeled “opposition leader” by the Western media, but she lacks charisma or political savvy. Any serious role she might have played was undercut when the government stage-managed an internal coup within her party that left several dead last year. She has since maintained a low profile and allowed events to pass her by.

Amien Rais:  Head of the Muhammadiyah, a 28-million member Muslim organization. In January, he gave Suharto six months to turn the economy around. In recent weeks, he has grabbed onto the coattails of the student movement, openly calling for Suharto to resign and offering himself as an alternative to the aging Indonesian leader. Has a window of opportunity. Key will be if he can muster broader political forces and reassure the military he does not seek an Islamic state.

B.J. Habibie:  Elevated to the vice-presidency by Suharto in the March election. Constitutionally, he would inherit power if the President resigned. Disliked by large sections of the military. Viewed with suspicion by the business community.

Emil Salim:  Former environment minister in Suharto’s cabinet. In a pointed political statement, he broke with tradition and offered himself as a vice-presidential candidate in the March election. Intelligent and moderate voice for reform. Lacks the broad base to replace Suharto, but could figure in any transitional government.

General Wiranto: Defence minister and long-time aide to Suharto. Installed after recent election because of his credentials as a loyalist. Committed to the military’s constitutional role as “upholder of national stability.” Those who know him say he has the steel to confront Suharto if ultimately convinced the President’s continued rule endangers national unity.

Major-General Prabowo:  Suharto’s son-in-law and chief of the army’s 30,000-member strategic command, the job Suharto held when he seized power. Able and ambitious; has risen quickly through the ranks, with obvious help from family ties. Engenders both strong loyalty and bitter opposition. A king-maker or, less likely, a possible king.

The unknown:  Much of Indonesian politics, and particularly military politics, takes place behind a veil. That a little-known personality might emerge can never be ruled out.

One version of the current jockeying for position puts the two top military commanders in different camps.

The armed forces chief of staff, Gen. Wiranto, according to this scenario, favours following the constitutional procedure under which vice-president B. J. Habibie would head a transitional government.

The head of the Army’s Strategic Command, Maj.-Gen. Prabowo, who is also Suharto’s son-in-law, is said to support installing Amien Rais, leader of a 28,000-member Muslim movement, as a figurehead.

“Under the constitution, you end up with Habibie, whom very few people want. That’s what makes speculating about possible scenarios so difficult,” according to a Western diplomat.

Likely compromise: The most likely compromise solution, according to several analysts, is a transitional coalition, which would convene a constitutional conference to select a new president. But that kind of transition is not provided for in the constitution.

“The military commanders take their role of safeguarding the constitution very seriously, and if one faction tries to circumvent it, that could lead to a split,” said one analyst.

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By Lawrence Pintak

Lawrence Pintak is an award-winning journalist and scholar. He is a former CBS News Middle East correspondent and was founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University (2009-2016). He was named a Fellow of the Society by the Society of Professional Journalists in 2017 for "outstanding service to the profession of journalism" around the world. Pintak is a contributor to, The Daily Beast, and other outlets. Read his articles at His books include Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & The War of Ideas; Islam for Journalists (co-editor); The New Arab Journalist; and Seeds of Hate: How America’s Flawed Middle East Policy Ignited the Jihad. He holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales, Trinity St. David. Follow him on Twitter @LPintak.

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