World backs new Indonesia leader


SINGAPORE, Reuters

World leaders threw their weight behind new Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Monday and expressed hope that the crisis-ridden country would enter a new period of stability.

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking on a visit to Italy, said he looked forward to working with Megawati and urged a peaceful resolution to the country’s crisis.

“We hope all parties will work together to maintain peace, support the constitution and promote national reconciliation,” Bush told a news conference.

Leaders of Japan and Australia also pledged support for the new president, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in Hanoi, recognized Megawati as the new leader of the world’s fourth most populous country.

The European Union said earlier it was ready to offer help to Indonesia in its efforts to achieve economic and political stability.

Indonesian lawmakers on Monday elected Megawati, daughter of the country’s founding leader, as its fourth president in as many turbulent years, sacking her disgraced predecessor Abdurrahman Wahid for incompetence.

The supreme People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) dumped Wahid hours after he declared a state of emergency and tried to dissolve the legislature in a pre-dawn bid to hold on to power.

As the MPR decided his fate, Wahid was holed up behind razor wire barricades in the colonial-era presidential palace. It was unclear how he would leave the palace and his aides said he would refuse to stand aside.

Indonesia’s battered rupiah gained more than 10 percent on Monday and the stock market surged to a 10-month high, delighted by the prospect of Wahid’s departure.

There were no signs of unrest in the sprawling archipelago, either in Jakarta or in Wahid’s political heartland of East Java where Muslim leaders ordered his fanatical supporters not to protest.

U.S. President Bush said: “We look forward to working with President Megawati and her team to address Indonesia’s challenges of economic reform, peaceful resolution of separatist challenges and maintaining territorial integrity.”

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said his government wanted to build stronger ties with Indonesia, and his Australian counterpart John Howard said Megawati had long been a champion of democratic ideals.

“Australia has an important and wide ranging relationship with Indonesia,” he said. Relations between the two neighbors became strained after Australia led international peacekeepers into East Timor in 1999 after it voted for independence from Jakarta.

In Hanoi, ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino told reporters: “I think it’s a reality, this change… the supreme court has spoken, the parliament has spoken, the MPR, and we have to accept that.”

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the change of president in Indonesia would benefit the entire region. “The more stable Indonesia is, the more the whole region will benefit,” Thaksin told reporters.

In Brussels, the European Union’s executive body urged Indonesian political parties and security forces to remain calm as political power changed hands.

European Commission spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said:”It is important that this process goes forward with calm and that there will be no violence.” The political drama deflected attention from the big challenges facing Indonesia which would have to be addressed urgently by the new leader, such as decentralization and economic stabilization, Wiegand said.

“The European Commission stands ready to assist in efforts for economic and political stabilization,” he said, adding that EU aid to the country was running at some 33 million euros (US$28.72 million) a year.

Indonesia’s neighbors fear turmoil there could spark an exodus of refugees, and the archipelago straddles some of the region’s most important shipping lanes.

In a positive sign for the near-ruined economy, the International Monetary Fund said a change of government should not make any difference to the resumption of a vital $5 billion loan program.

“We agreed with the government on a set of policies and that set of policies can be put into place irrespective of the composition of the government,” IMF senior resident representative in Jakarta John Dodsworth told Reuters.