A Woman in Islamic Indonesia

The world's fourth-most-populous nation, the country with the largest number of Muslims, has just taken a democratic leap - perhaps over a cliff.

Yesterday, Indonesia's legislature elected the most popular Islamic leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, as president. He won even though his main rival, a Muslim woman named Megawati Sukarnoputri, led her party to win the most seats in parliamentary elections last June.

Then why did she lose the presidency? In Mr. Wahid's own words, this daughter of the nation's founding father is "stupid," not pro-Islam, and promoted too many Christians as candidates. And as a woman, he said, she is opposed by elected Muslim clerics.

Has diverse and volatile Indonesia entered a post-Suharto era of bigotry?

Islam and democracy have yet to mix well in most Muslim nations. But yesterday's vote reveals that Indonesia's Muslim political parties, which generally preach tolerance and didn't fare well in the June election, can easily coalesce for the sake of da'wah, or propagation of Islamic values.

The jocular Wahid knows it's no joke that the military sees its role as preventing Islamic dominance. He'll likely weave them into his government. And he may reach out to the elite and powerful Christian minority.

But this young democracy should study how countries like Pakistan, Algeria, Turkey, and Egypt have fared in dealing with political Islam.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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