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Mega support wanes as protests continue JAKARTA - When she became president 18 months ago, Megawati Sukarnoputri was lauded as a champion of the poor, a mother figure who promised to look after the "orang kecil" - the downtrodden little guy. But mention her name in the narrow alleys of Indonesia's hideously overcrowded slums and impoverished rural villages nowadays and you'll hear cries of "sellout" and "traitor."
"I supported Megawati but I'll never do it again," said Nemah, a 52-year-old mother of five who lives in Tanah Abang, a gritty Jakarta neighbourhood. "What for? There is no proof the government is there for us." The trigger for such animosity has been price hikes this month for fuel, electricity and telephone charges - items that Megawati's government and foreign lenders say can no longer be heavily subsidised by the state that's been weighed down by huge debt and budget deficits.
Angered by rising cost of living in country where many survive on a single Euro a day, thousands took to the streets over the past two weeks, occupied government offices, burned portraits of Megawati and demanded she quit. The protests have been reminiscent of, but smaller than, pro-democracy demonstrations that helped oust ex-dictator Suharto in 1998. And while they are unlikely to directly force Megawati from office, they are testing her resolve to carry out tough economic reforms.
Last week, her government rolled back the telephone service increases and agreed review the other rises. Worryingly, the protests have not abated. Megawati's political opponents - including remnants of Suharto's old guard and conservative Muslim parties - suggest her standing has been irreparably damaged ahead of Indonesia's first direct presidential elections next year.
That's a scenario that poses problems for the United States and Indonesia's neighbours, which regard Megawati's secular nationalism as a bulwark against religious extremism in the world's most populous Muslim nation. "This is the most difficult challenge she's faced since becoming president," said R. Chatib Basri, of the University of Indonesia. "She never faced big demonstrations like these."
Critics say the price hikes are the latest example of a president who has lost touch with the urban and rural poor - the main electoral base of her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Instead, they complain she has allied herself with the abusive military and taken to sheltering many of the corrupt tycoons that flourished during the Suharto era.



Posted in Protests @ 20 January 2003 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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