We were deeply saddened to hear KH Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid has passed away.
Gus Dur became the fourth president of Indonesia in 1999. At that time, I was in Canberra, Aco in Champaign, Ujang in East Lansing, Sjamsu on the way to Washington, DC from Ithaca, and Rizal in Kukusan Beji, Depok. It was a funny process. There was yet to be a direct presidential election. The president was elected by the MPR which consists of 500 elected DPR members, and another 195 non-elected members.
Megawati’s PDIP was the winner of the election. That made her the strongest candidate to become the president. But there was a strong resentment against having a female president, mainly from the Islamic parties. Some last minute maneuvers inside the MPR, known as ‘Poros Tengah’ initiated by Amien Rais (then MPR Chairman) broke the deadlock by installing Gus Dur as the president and gave Megawati the VP chair.
Gus Dur was a great pluralist, humanist, pro-democratic, moderate Muslim leader. Unfortunately, he was not a good president. Worse, he was an erratic president. Of course, he had great agenda. Some of which he could achieve – like bringing down the discriminative barriers against ethnic Chinese, pushing forward pluralism ideas, eliminating SIUPP and removing 'culture' from the Ministry of Education and Culture. But his erratic style made it hard for almost everyone to understand what he was doing, let alone to execute his other agendas. Soon the supports for him waned.
His most famous catchphrase was “Gitu aja kok repot?” In some ways, this proved to be an optimal strategy to deal with criticisms and dirty politicking. The problem was he used this strategy too much, even for things that needed his serious attention. Our senior colleague Hadi Soesastro once told a story when he, Prof. Emil Salim and some other senior economists gave an economic briefing, Gus Dur literally fell asleep. After someone woke him up, he just said, “Right, you take care of the economy…”
His presidency reached the anticlimax in July 2001 when the same MPR which elected him less than two years earlier agreed to impeach him following the infamous ‘Buloggate’ and ‘Bruneigate’ scandals. The same MPR which rejected Megawati then elected her to be the fifth president.
Nevertheless, no one can disagree that he was a great person. One of the best Indonesians we’ve ever had. And we will surely miss him. So long, Gus… Have a nice rest, now you no longer have to be repot…