Contrary revolutions

Pakistan, Indonesia: Military rule, or its end, is a transition that does not guarantee needed reforms.

October 29, 1999

THE NEW government, though not democratically elected, is popular because the preceding regime was so bad. The reformers pledge to end corruption, hold the country together, restart the economy and restore national honor.

That could be Pakistan, where Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf made himself absolute ruler after a coup.

It equally describes Indonesia, where Abdurrahman Wahid was indirectly elected president and Megawati Sukarnoputri vice president last week, replacing the transitional successor to a dictator.

Whether to prosecute the corrupt former ruling elite or seek national reconciliation is a difficult choice for both.

Indonesia was ruled for 32 years by General Suharto, whose family and cronies grew quite rich. Pakistan had 11 years of Tweedledum-Tweedledee alternating rule by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, elected prime ministers. Their families also became super rich.

Mr. Wahid is a religious scholar; General Musharraf is a secularist. As Pakistan is an Islamic republic and Indonesia pluralistic, life will be more strictly confined by Islamic law under the secular general than the tolerant theologian.

President Wahid's intentions are good. But can he implement reform, control politics and tame the army? General Musharraf's ability to control Pakistan is undisputed, but his intentions are unknown.

Both countries desperately need integrity and efficiency at the top. Neither is guaranteed either. Each is in the throes of optimistic rebirth but has been there before.

Occasionally, an army that takes over in the name of honesty does as promised. Sometimes, people who campaign for reforms carry them out.

Neither military rule nor democracy are guaranteed to liberate people or banish corruption. These two revolutionary regimes moved in opposite directions toward the same goals. The United States can only hope each succeeds.

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