Indonesian opposition chief ousted from party chair Rivals dump Megawati, leaving backers uncertain about their next move


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's most prominent political opposition figure, Megawati Sukarnoputri, was ousted yesterday from her party's leadership by rival members, leaving her supporters uncertain over their next move.

With the blessing of the Indonesian government, the rival members reinstated Megawati's predecessor as party chairman at a meeting in the city of Medan, setting the stage for a possible confrontation with her supporters, who continued to occupy the party headquarters in Jakarta.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's late President Sukarno, denounced the rival meeting as unconstitutional and said, "I will continue to fight for democracy and uphold the people's sovereignty."

But without the position of party leader, Megawati would not have legal standing to run for president in elections scheduled for 1998, and her supporters said her political options were limited.

The reinstated party chairman, Suryadi, said he hoped to keep Megawati in a prominent position in the party, but her supporters said she would not accept a compromise.

In recent weeks, Megawati, 49, has raised an increasingly vocal challenge to the leadership of President Suharto, who has ruled Indonesia since taking power from Sukarno in 1966. In six presidential elections, he has been the only candidate of all three government-sanctioned parties, including that of Megawati, the Indonesia Democratic Party.

True opposition parties are not allowed in Indonesia, and Suryadi, who like many Indonesians uses one name, said yesterday he did not want his party to become "the enemy of the government."

Megawati had been leading the party in that direction, threatening last week to mobilize her supporters and saying that if she chose, she could paralyze the country by bringing millions of people into the streets.

But Thursday, when 5,000 of her supporters demonstrated in Jakarta to protest the rival party meeting, soldiers with batons choked off the demonstration, sending dozens of people to the hospital and sobering their leaders.

"It was a shock," said Laksamana Sukardi, the party's treasurer and a Megawati loyalist. "We need to pause and save some logistics and energy."

But he said he did not expect Megawati to accept defeat.

Suharto, who is 75, has not said whether he intends to run again for president, and Megawati's challenge comes in the context of growing speculation about his plans and about his possible choice of a successor.

"After 30 years of relatively stable rule, no one is sure that the transition is going to be accomplished with stability," said Jeffrey A. Winters, an associate professor at Northwestern University who is an expert on Indonesia. "There is no institutionalization for change, which is what makes investors nervous."

Though he has brought increasing prosperity to this nation of 190 million people, Suharto has maintained tight control over its press and political system.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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