INDONESIA COULD CAST LONG SHADOW OF ITS OWN

INDONESIA COULD CAST LONG SHADOW OF ITS OWN

The end of the Cold War is spawning fresh hope in a little-expected place, Indonesia, where the selection of a new president last last month without bloodshed or violence was a first in the nation's history.

In the process, Indonesia's prospects soared as it slipped out of the long shadow of the U.S.-Soviet standoff and cheered its first completely civilian government.The election of Abdurrahman Wahid as president, coupled with the generous yet savvy gesture to his rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to serve with him as vice president, makes Indonesia one of the more promising prospects among emerging democracies of the post-Cold War era.

Coupled with the selection earlier this year of Amien Rais as speaker of the Assembly, this means Indonesia's three key leaders represent the political parties or coalitions that won more than 55 percent of the vote in June's elections.

Such popular support makes this triumvirate of moderate Muslim leaders ready to govern. If even partially successful, they will cast a shadow of their own far beyond Indonesia's shores as a pro-West, market-oriented, moderate and religiously tolerant Muslim state takes its rightful role on the world stage.

Such a development in the world's fourth-largest country will accelerate economic recovery throughout Asia and could even have an impact on peace efforts in the Middle East as the world sees a new face of Islam.

With its immense population - 210 million people - and rich natural resources, Indonesia is already beginning to rebuild its economy and satisfy the needs of its long-suffering people.

With new political stability, this further boost to Indonesia will, in turn, help propel Southeast Asia's recovery forward. However, the key to advancing these prospects quickly - in years rather than decades - is foreign investment.

Foreign investors want and need political stability and economic sanity in order to invest with some confidence.

Wahid, known in Indonesia as Gus Dur, a title of both affection and respect, is prepared to deliver both stability and sanity in matters economic.

In a wide-ranging discussion during the presidential campaign earlier this year, he expressed unabashed and unreserved commitment to market economics.

This, he said, was the best way to help Indonesians help themselves. He knows Indonesia will fare well in a worldwide economy, because of its relative youth (more than half the nation is under age 25), abundant natural resources, strong work ethic and prevalence of English-speaking, westward-looking citizens.

Gus Dur also stressed the need for Indonesia to be religiously and politically tolerant, a theme expected more from a secular leader or military officer than a Muslim cleric. Yet he is very passionate and convincing in his views.

And, if he is successful in helping this Muslim-majority nation submerge religious factions and forge a unity of national spirit and purpose, Indonesia - once a leader among the so-called non-aligned nations movement - may well again provide the world a model of a different type.

The world would have the opportunity to see a Muslim-majority nation interested in economic development, political stability, religious tolerance and social advancement, whose foreign policy was a servant of these objectives instead of being bent only on the destruction of Israel.

There remain, however, ample challenges, any one of which could derail reform and plunge Indonesia back into economic paralysis and political repression.

Three are evident at the outset, and they provide a ready way to evaluate the nation's progress toward its promise. First, enduring political institutions must be created that are rooted in Indonesian custom and tradition. Money politics and crony capitalism, the policy of the three presidents who led Indonesia since it became independent at the end of World War II, must be banished.

The Assembly must control budgets; election-law reform must be enacted and new civil rights laws must be vigorously enforced.

Second, the nation must master federalism, so that some roles and responsibilities are handled at the provincial or local level.

Indonesia is a diverse nation of more than 13,000 islands, one-size-fits-all government from Jakarta can aggravate some issues. Many separatist movements intensify this challenge; East Timor and its disastrous handling by the immediate past president, B.J. Habibie, is the most notable.

Finally, Indonesia must create a legal system that codifies the principle of the rule of law.

The experience of Western liberal democracies offers much, but perhaps no offering is more imperative to root in the new Indonesia than the rule of law.

For we all know these leaders may soon give way for one reason or another to others with less honorable intentions or less noble character.