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‘Our Problems Can’t Be Solved by Violence’

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Five days after being sworn in, Megawati Sukarnoputri toured west Java and Sulawesi to inaugurate a number of development projects. The trip was scheduled while she was still Vice President. At Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi province, she spoke with TIME reporter Jason Tedjasukmana over a breakfast of omelettes and toast in her first interview as President. Edited excerpts:

TIME: What’s at the top of your agenda as President?
It is important to manage this transition smoothly. After I was given more responsibility for the handling of daily affairs in a presidential decree last year, I feel that I have gained much experience in administrative affairs. As a nation we face enormous problems inherited from (Suharto’s) New Order regime. We have done a lot of positive things but we cannot yet say that we have succeeded. The main priority is to maintain the integrity of the country, to prevent disintegration. This republic was founded with the objective of unifying all of the regions into the Republic of Indonesia. We need to implement programs of stability and security to quickly settle our problems. Many of the problems and conflicts are violent in nature but we have learned that it is impossible to settle them with more violence. The fact that the special session concluded without violence is a sign that our democracy is maturing.

TIME: Some commentators suggest that you will be more inclined than Wahid to use the military and more repressive means to settle conflicts in restive regions such as Aceh and Irian Jaya. Is this your plan?
(Laughs.) The media may say this but I have had a bitter experience with violence. My whole family experienced it. We have laws and the 1945 Constitution, which makes it obligatory for me to preserve the unity of this country.

TIME: Does this mean you’ll send more troops to these regions or will you take a different approach?
As the chairman of the Democratic Party for Struggle, I have a standing instruction not to use violence. I always stress three points: the democratic mechanism, constitutional process and non-violence. The party has experienced extremely bitter times and violence such as the incident of July 27, 1996. The problems of Aceh and Irian Jaya are being addressed by government regulations and presidential instructions.

TIME: Why was it more important for you to make this trip and not join the fifth anniversary commemoration of the July 27 incident in Jakarta?
That was a critical moment for my party, but now I have to look at all aspects of this country and its future. I’m still the party chairman but my obligation now is to serve, process and prioritize the tasks of running Indonesia.

TIME: How will your administration differ from former President Abdurrahman Wahid’s?
It was (Wahid) who was more inclined to causing problems than his government.

TIME: Will your Vice President have the same degree of power you had in that job?
There are already regulations that state that the Vice President is supposed to be the President’s assistant. But there will be a difference. The last annual session of the People’s Consultative Assembly resulted in a presidential decree that handed more responsibility to the Vice President because of (Wahid’s) shortcomings. That decree will be revoked and those tasks returned to the hands of the President.

TIME: Your Vice President once said that a woman should not be President. He also helped block your bid for the presidency in 1999. How well do you think you can work with Hamzah Haz?
I’m always optimistic and look to the future. That was a story from the past. The Vice President said in his inauguration speech that he wanted to work together with me as President. I am sure that the processes we undertake to get this country out of its many crises will work. As I said in my inauguration speech, what is needed in the future is the cooperation of all the nation’s components to maintain the unity of the country, handle the crises, and move forward.

TIME: Which sectors of the economy do you feel need immediate attention?
The problems are multidimensional and I am concerned with all sectors. The problems cannot be solved one by one but through a comprehensive solution. As Vice President I presided over a number of meetings on finding efficient ways of solving the problems we face. As a result I can see in a more clear and detailed way the problems we have in the areas of banking, industry, farming and many others.

TIME: How will you survive until 2004 and are you afraid of suffering the same fate as Wahid?
If we follow the rules things will run smoothly. There is a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, but the two need to work together.

TIME: Have you been in contact with Wahid?
No. But I was informed by his doctors that he planned to go abroad.

TIME: Any word from Wahid himself?
Not yet.

TIME: Is there a message you would like to convey to him?
I hope you’re healthy and that you can continue to serve the nation.

TIME: What teachings of your father will you employ to lead the country?
Do not look at me as the daughter of (first President Sukarno). My father was the founder of Indonesia. And much of his thinking is still very relevant today. His philosophy of Pancasila (state ideology) can still be adhered to as the foundation of this country.

TIME: Will you reopen the corruption case against former President Suharto?
I have been monitoring the legal proceedings but cannot yet give an answer. There are still many aspects I have to evaluate and take a closer look at. The solution will have to be one that helps this country move toward a better future.

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