Muslim cleric's policies unclear, but he advocates tolerance

October 21, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- He is 59 years old and nearly blind. He speaks passable English, comes from a long line of Muslim clerics and has studied in Egypt, Iraq and Canada.

He totters about with a cane, tirelessly preaches religious tolerance and heads the largest Muslim group in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

These are some of the spare and more obvious facts about Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's newly elected president.

His policies and political vision are less known, as are any political alliances he might have struck to help win the presidency.

"A true political chameleon," said one Asian diplomat based in Jakarta.

"You're never sure of his color. He's over here one minute and he's over there the next. You might say he's very adaptable."

Bruce Gale, an Indonesia expert and managing director of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Singapore, said, "He's going to be a very hard guy to read on the issues of the day. He has gone every which way."

Wahid is a devout Muslim, but his version of Islam is far from the extremist fundamentalism of Iran, Afghanistan or even Saudi Arabia, and there seems little likelihood that he'll try to turn Indonesia's secular political system in a more religious direction.

Wahid has consistently preached a politics of religious inclusion, particularly toward the Christian minority and ethnic Chinese in the country.

Pub Date: 10/21/99

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