Abdurrahman Wahid

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Abdurrahman Wahid
Official portrait, 1999
4th President of Indonesia
In office
20 October 1999 – 23 July 2001
Vice PresidentMegawati Sukarnoputri
Preceded byB. J. Habibie
Succeeded byMegawati Sukarnoputri
Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama
In office
Preceded byIdham Chalid
Succeeded byHasyim Muzadi
Personal details
Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil

(1940-09-07)7 September 1940
Djombang, Dutch East Indies
Died30 December 2009(2009-12-30) (aged 69)
Jakarta, Indonesia
Resting placeJombang, East Java
Political partyPKB
Height163 cm (5 ft 4 in)[1]
(m. 1968)
Children4, including Yenny Wahid
Alma mater
NicknameGus Dur

Abdurrahman Wahid (/ˌɑːbdʊəˈrɑːxmɑːn wɑːˈhd/ AHB-doo-RAHKH-mahn wah-HEED; ad-Dakhil,[2][3] 7 September 1940 – 30 December 2009), more colloquially known as Gus Dur (listen), was an Indonesian politician and Islamic religious leader who served as the fourth president of Indonesia, from his election in 1999 until he was removed from office in 2001. A long time leader within the Nahdlatul Ulama organization, he was the founder of the National Awakening Party (PKB). He was the son of Minister of Religious Affairs Wahid Hasyim, and the grandson of Nahdatul Ulama founder Hasyim Asy'ari. Due to a visual impairment caused by glaucoma, he was blind in the left eye and partially blind in his right eye. He was the first (and to date only) president of Indonesia to have had physical disabilities.

Wahid was instrumental in lifting the ban on Chinese New Year (Indonesian: Imlek). Until 1998, the spiritual practice to celebrate the Chinese New Year by Chinese families was restricted specifically only inside of Chinese community centers. This restriction is made by the New Order government through Presidential Instruction No. 14 of 1967 signed by Suharto. On 17 January 2000, Wahid issued Presidential Decree No. 6 of 2000 to annul the previous instruction.[4] He established Confucianism as the sixth official religion in Indonesia in 2000 and protected minority rights in Indonesia. As a result, Wahid was given the title "Father of Pluralism".[5]

His popular nickname 'Gus Dur' is derived from Gus, a common honorific for a son of kyai, and from the short-form of bagus ('handsome lad' in Javanese[6]); and Dur, short-form of his name, Abdurrahman.

Early life and family[edit]

Abdurrahman Wahid as a young man, ca. 1960s

Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil was born on the fourth day of the Sha'ban, the eighth month of the Islamic calendar in 1940 in Jombang, East Java to Abdul Wahid Hasyim and Siti Sholehah. This led to a belief that he was born on 4 August; instead, using the Islamic calendar to mark his birth date meant that he was actually born on 4 Sha'aban, equivalent to 7 September 1940.

He was named after Abd ar-Rahman I of the Umayyad Caliphate who brought Islam to Spain and was thus nicknamed "ad-Dakhil" ("the conqueror"). His name is stylized in the traditional Arabic naming system as "Abdurrahman, son of Abdurrahman". Abdurrahman is of Chinese, Arab and Javanese ancestry.[7][8] From his paternal line, he is descended from a well-known Muslim missionary from China known as Syekh Abdul Qadir Tan Kiem Han who was a disciple of Sunan Ngampel-Denta (Raden Rahmat Bong Swie Hoo), one of the Nine Wali (Holy Islamic Saints) who became one of the first Islamic Kings on Java who Islamicized Java in the 15-16th centuries.[citation needed]

He was the oldest of his five siblings, and was born into a very prestigious family in the East Java Muslim community. His paternal grandfather, Hasyim Asy'ari was the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) while his maternal grandfather, Bisri Syansuri was the first Muslim educator to introduce classes for women.[9]

After the Indonesian Declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945, Abdurrahman Wahid moved back to Jombang and remained there during the fight for independence from the Netherlands during the Indonesian National Revolution. At the end of the war in 1949, Abdurrahman Wahid moved to Jakarta as his father had been appointed Minister of Religious Affairs. He was educated in Jakarta, going to KRIS Primary School before moving to Matraman Perwari Primary School. Abdurrahman Wahid was encouraged to read non-Muslim books, magazines, and newspapers by his father to further broaden his horizons.[10] He stayed in Jakarta with his family even after his father's removal as Minister of Religious Affairs in 1952. In April 1953, Abdurrahman's father died in a car crash.

In 1954, Abdurrahman Wahid began Junior High School. That year, he failed to graduate to the next year and was forced to repeat. His mother made the decision to send him to Yogyakarta to continue his education. In 1957, after graduating from Junior High School, he moved to Magelang to begin his Muslim education at Tegalrejo Pesantren (Muslim school). He completed the pesantren course in two years instead of the usual four. In 1959, he moved back to Jombang to Pesantren Tambakberas. There, while continuing his own education, Abdurrahman Wahid received his first job as a teacher and later on as headmaster of a madrasah affiliated with the pesantren. Abdurrahman Wahid found employment as a journalist for magazines such as Horizon and Majalah Budaya Jaya.

Abdurrahman Wahid standing between his mother and father, and behind his siblings and a friend of the family, circa 1952.

Overseas education[edit]

In 1963, Abdurrahman Wahid received a scholarship from the Ministry of Religious Affairs to study at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. He left for Egypt in November 1963. Unable to provide evidence to certify that he spoke Arabic, Abdurrahman was told when arriving that he would have to take a remedial class in the language before enrolling at the university's Higher Institute for Islamic and Arabic studies.

Instead of attending classes, Abdurrahman Wahid spent 1964 enjoying life in Egypt, watching European and American movies as well as indulging in his hobby of watching football. Abdurrahman was also involved with the Association of Indonesian Students and became a journalist for the association's magazine. After passing the remedial Arabic examination, he finally began studies at the Higher Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies in 1965, but was disappointed as he had already studied many of the texts offered at the Institute in Java and disapproved of the rote learning method used by the university.[11]

In Egypt, Abdurrahman Wahid found employment with the Indonesian Embassy. It was during his stint with the embassy that coup attempt was launched by the 30 September Movement, which the Communist Party of Indonesia was accused of leading. With Army Strategic Reserves commander Major General Suharto taking control of the situation in Jakarta, a crackdown against suspected communists was initiated. The Indonesian Embassy in Egypt was ordered to conduct an investigation into the political views of university students. This order was passed to Abdurrahman Wahid, who was charged with writing the reports.[12]

Abdurrahman's displeasure at the method of education and his work following the coup attempt distracted him from his studies. He sought and received another scholarship at the University of Baghdad and moved to Iraq. There Abdurrahman Wahid continued his involvement with the Association of Indonesian Students as well as with writing journalistic pieces to be read in Indonesia.

After completing his education at the University of Baghdad in 1970, Abdurrahman Wahid went to the Netherlands to continue his education. He wanted to attend Leiden University but was disappointed as there was little recognition for the studies that he had undertaken at the University of Baghdad. From the Netherlands, he went to Germany and France before returning to Indonesia in 1971.

Early career[edit]

Abdurrahman Wahid returned to Jakarta expecting that in a year's time, he would be abroad again to study at McGill University in Canada. He kept himself busy by joining the Institute for Economic and Social Research, Education and Information [id] (LP3ES),[13] an organization which consisted of intellectuals with progressive Muslims and social-democratic views. LP3ES established the magazine Prisma and Abdurrahman became one of the main contributors to the magazine. Whilst working as a contributor for LP3ES, he also conducted tours to pesantren and madrasah across Java. It was a time when pesantren were desperate to gain state funding by adopting state-endorsed curricula and Abdurrahman was concerned that the traditional values of the pesantren were being damaged because of this change. He was also concerned with the poverty of the pesantren which he saw during his tours. At the same time as it was encouraging pesantren to adopt state-endorsed curricula, the Government was also encouraging pesantren as agents for change and to help assist the government in the economic development of Indonesia. It was at this time that Abdurrahman Wahid finally decided to drop plans for overseas studies in favor of promoting the development of the pesantren.

Abdurrahman Wahid continued his career as a journalist, writing for the magazine Tempo and Kompas, a leading Indonesian newspaper. His articles were well received, and he began to develop a reputation as a social commentator. Abdurrahman's popularity was such that at this time he was invited to give lectures and seminars, obliging him to travel back and forth between Jakarta and Jombang, where he now lived with his family.

Despite having a successful career up to that point, Abdurrahman Wahid still found it hard to make ends meet, and he worked to earn extra income by selling peanuts and delivering ice to be used for his wife's es lilin (popsicle) business.[14] In 1974, he found extra employment in Jombang as a Muslim Legal Studies teacher at Pesantren Tambakberas and soon developed a good reputation. A year later, Abdurrahman added to his workload as a teacher of Kitab al-Hikam, a classical text of sufism.

In 1977, Abdurrahman Wahid joined the Hasyim Asyari University as Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Beliefs and Practices. Again he excelled in his job and the university wanted to him to teach extra subjects such as pedagogy, sharia, and missiology. However, his excellence caused some resentment from within the ranks of university and he was blocked from teaching the subjects. Whilst undertaking all these ventures he also regularly delivered speeches during Ramadan to the Muslim community in Jombang.

Leader of Nahdlatul Ulama[edit]

Early involvement with NU[edit]

Abdurrahman's family background meant that sooner or later, he would be asked to play an active role in the running of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This ran contrary to Abdurrahman's aspirations of becoming a public intellectual and he had twice rejected offers to join the NU Religious Advisory Council. Nevertheless, Abdurrahman finally chose to join the Council when his own grandfather, Bisri Syansuri gave him the third offer.[15] In taking this job, Abdurrahman also made the decision to move from Jombang to Jakarta and to permanently reside there. As a member of the Religious Advisory Council, Abdurrahman envisioned himself as a reformer of NU.[16]

At this time, Abdurrahman Wahid also had his first political experience. In the lead-up to the 1982 Legislative Elections, Abdurrahman Wahid campaigned for the United Development Party (PPP), an Islamist Party which was formed as a result of a merger of four Islamist parties including NU. Abdurrahman Wahid recalled that the Government actively disrupted PPP's campaigns by arresting people like himself.[17] However, Abdurrahman Wahid was always able to secure his release, having developed connections in high places with the likes of General Benny Moerdani.

Reformation of NU[edit]

By this time, many [who?] viewed the NU as a stagnant organization. After careful discussion, the Religious Advisory Council finally formed a Team of Seven (which included Abdurrahman) to tackle the issues of reform and to help revitalize the NU. For some members of the NU, reform in the organization involved a change of leadership. On 2 May 1982, a group of high-ranking NU officials met with NU chairman Idham Chalid and asked for his resignation. Idham, who had guided the NU in the transition from Sukarno to Suharto resisted at first but bowed down to pressure. On 6 May 1982, Abdurrahman Wahid heard of Idham's decision to resign and approached him saying that the demands being made for him to resign were unconstitutional. With urging from Abdurrahman Wahid, Idham withdrew his resignation and Abdurrahman Wahid, together with the Team of Seven was able to negotiate a compromise between Idham and those who had asked for his resignation.[18]

In 1983, Suharto was re-elected to a fourth term as president by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and began taking steps to establish the Pancasila state ideology as the sole basis for all organizations. From June 1983 to October 1983, Abdurrahman was part of a team which was commissioned to prepare the NU's response to this issue. Abdurrahman consulted texts such as the Quran and Sunnah for justification and finally, in October 1983, concluded that the NU should accept Pancasila as its ideology.[19] To further revitalize the NU, Abdurrahman was also successful in securing its withdrawal from PPP and party politics to allow it focus on social matters instead of hampering itself by being involved in politics.

Election to chairmanship and first term as chairman[edit]

Abdurrahman's reforms had made him extremely popular within the ranks of NU. By the time of the 1984 National Congress, many began to state their intentions to nominate Abdurrahman as the new chairman of NU. Abdurrahman accepted the nomination, provided that he had the power to choose who would be on his leadership team. Abdurrahman was elected as the new chairman of NU during the National Congress. However, his stipulation of choosing his own team was not honored. The last day of the Congress had begun with Abdurrahman's list of team members being approved by high-ranking NU officials including outgoing Chairman Idham. Abdurrahman had gone to the Committee in charge of running the Congress and handed in his list which was to be announced later. However, the Committee in question was against Idham and announced a totally different list of people. Abdurrahman was outraged but was pressured to accept the changes made.[20]

Abdurrahman's ascendancy to the NU chairmanship was seen positively by Suharto and his New Order regime. Abdurrahman's acceptance of Pancasila along with his moderate image won him favor among Government ranks. In 1985, Suharto made Abdurrahman a Pancasila indoctrinator.[21] In 1987, Abdurrahman showed further support for the regime by criticizing PPP in the lead-up to the 1987 Legislative Elections and further strengthening Suharto's Golkar Party. His reward came in the form of a membership of the MPR. Although he was viewed with favor by the regime, Abdurrahman criticised the Government over the Kedung Ombo Dam project that was funded by the World Bank. Although this somewhat soured the cordial relationships that Abdurrahman had with the Government, Suharto was still keen on getting political support from NU.

During his first term as chairman of NU, Abdurrahman focused on reform of the pesantren education system and was successful in increasing the quality of pesantren education system so that it can match up with secular schools.[22] In 1987, Abdurrahman also set up study groups in Probolinggo, East Java to provide a forum for like-minded individuals within NU to discuss and provide interpretations to Muslim texts.[23] Critics accused Abdurrahman of wishing to replace the Arabic Muslim greeting of "assalamualaikum" with the secular greeting of "selamat pagi", which means good morning in Indonesian.

Second term as chairman and opposing the New Order[edit]

Abdurrahman was re-elected to a second term as chairman of NU at the 1989 National Congress. By this time, Suharto, embroiled in a political battle with ABRI, began to ingratiate himself with the Muslim constituency so as to win their support. This venture reached a turning point in December 1990 with the formation of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia or ICMI). This organization was backed by Suharto, chaired by BJ Habibie and included Muslim intellectuals such as Amien Rais and Nurcholish Madjid as its members. In 1991, various members of ICMI asked Abdurrahman to join. Abdurrahman declined because he thought that ICMI encouraged sectarianism and that it was mainly a means by which Suharto manoeuvred to remain powerful.[24] In 1991, Abdurrahman countered ICMI by forming the Democracy Forum, an organization which contained 45 intellectuals from various religious and social communities. The organization was seen as a threat by the government, which moved to break up meetings held by the Democracy Forum during the run-up to the 1992 Legislative Elections approached.

In March 1992, Abdurrahman Wahid planned to have a Great Assembly to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of NU and to reiterate the organization's support for Pancasila. Abdurrahman Wahid had planned for the event to be attended by at least one million NU members. However, Suharto moved to block the event, ordering policemen to turn back busloads of NU members as they arrived in Jakarta. Nevertheless, the event managed to attract 200,000 attendants. After the event, Abdurrahman Wahid wrote a letter of protest to Suharto saying that NU had not been given a chance to display a brand of Islam that was open, fair, and tolerant.[25] During his second term as chairman of NU, Abdurrahman's liberal ideas had begun to turn many supporters sour. As chairman, Abdurrahman Wahid continued to push for inter-faith dialogue and even accepted an invitation to visit Israel in October 1994.[26]

Third term as chairman and the lead-up to Reformasi[edit]

As the 1994 National Congress approached, Abdurrahman Wahid nominated himself for a third term as chairman. Hearing this, Suharto wanted to make sure that Abdurrahman Wahid was not elected. In the weeks leading up to the Congress, Suharto supporters, such as Habibie and Harmoko campaigned against Abdurrahman's re-election. When it came time for the National Congress, the site for the Congress was tightly guarded by ABRI in an act of intimidation.[27] Despite this, and attempts to bribe NU members to vote against him, Abdurrahman Wahid was re-elected as NU chairman for a third term. During his third term, Abdurrahman Wahid began to move closer towards a political alliance with Megawati Sukarnoputri from the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). Capitalizing on her father's legacy, Megawati had a lot of popularity and intended to put political and moral pressure on Suharto's regime. Abdurrahman advised Megawati to be cautious and to avoid being nominated as president during the 1998 MPR General Session. Megawati ignored Abdurrahman's advice and paid the price in July 1996 when her PDI headquarters were taken over by supporters of Government-backed PDI chairman, Suryadi.

Seeing what happened to Megawati, Abdurrahman thought that his best option now was to retreat politically by getting himself back in favor with the Government. In November 1996, Abdurrahman Wahid and Suharto met for the first time since Abdurrahman's re-election to the NU chairmanship and this was followed over the next few months by meetings with various Government people who in 1994 had attempted to block Abdurrahman's re-election.[28] At the same time, however, Abdurrahman Wahid kept his options for reform open and in December 1996, had a meeting with Amien Rais, an ICMI member who had grown critical of the regime.

July 1997 saw the beginning of the Asian Financial Crisis. Suharto began to lose control of the situation and just as he was being pushed to step up the reform movement with Megawati and Amien, Abdurrahman experienced a stroke in January 1998. From his hospital bed, Abdurrahman Wahid continued to see the situation worsen with Suharto's re-election to a seventh term as president accompanied by student protests. The protests would turn into riots in May 1998 after the killing of four students at Trisakti University. On 19 May 1998, Abdurrahman Wahid, together with eight prominent leaders from the Muslim community were summoned to Suharto's residence. Suharto outlined the idea of a Reform Committee which he had begun to propose at the time. All nine rejected Suharto's offer to join the Reform Committee. Abdurrahman Wahid maintained a more moderate stance with Suharto and called on the protesting to stop to see if Suharto was going to implement his promise.[29] This displeased Amien who was one of the most vocal of Suharto's critics at the time. Nevertheless, support for Suharto quickly ebbed away, and he resigned the presidency on 21 May 1998. Vice President Habibie became president.

Reformasi era[edit]

Formation of PKB and the Ciganjur statement[edit]

President Suharto met with Wahid in 1998.

One of the immediate effects of Suharto's fall was the formation of new political parties. Under Suharto's regime, political parties had been limited to just three; Golkar, PPP, and PDI. Now with his fall, new political parties were formed, the most prominent of which were Amien's National Mandate Party (PAN) and Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). In June 1998, many from within the NU community began pressuring Abdurrahman Wahid to form a new political party. Abdurrahman Wahid did not warm up to the idea immediately, thinking that this would result in a political party which only catered to one religion. He was also unwilling to overrule his own decision to take NU out of politics. By July 1998, however, he began to warm up to the idea, thinking that establishing a political party was the only way to challenge the organizationally strong Golkar in an election. With that in mind, Abdurrahman Wahid approved of the formation of PKB and became the chairman of its Advisory Council with Matori Abdul Djalil as party chairman. Although it was clearly dominated by NU members, Abdurrahman Wahid promoted the PKB as a party that was non-sectarian and open to all members of society.

As opposition to the government, Abdurrahman Wahid, together with Megawati and Amien were willing to adopt a moderate stance towards Habibie's Government, preferring instead to wait for the 1999 legislative elections.[30] Nevertheless, in November 1998, in a meeting at his residence in the Jakarta suburb of Ciganjur, Abdurrahman, together with Megawati, Amien, and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X reiterated their commitment to reform. On 7 February 1999, PKB officially declared Abdurrahman Wahid as their presidential candidate.

1999 elections and MPR General Session[edit]

Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid converse during a session of the MPR.

In June 1999, Abdurrahman's PKB entered the legislative elections. The PKB won 12% of the votes with Megawati's PDI-P winning the legislative elections with 33% of the votes. With her party decisively winning the legislative elections, Megawati expected to win the presidency against Habibie at the MPR General Session. However, the PDI-P did not have complete majority and formed a loose alliance with the PKB. In July, however, Amien Rais would form the Central Axis, a coalition of Muslim parties.[31] The Central Axis then began to consider nominating Abdurrahman as a third candidate in the presidential race and the PKB's commitment towards PDI-P began to waver.

In October 1999, the MPR convened and Abdurrahman threw his support behind Amien, who was elected as the chairman of the MPR. On 7 October 1999, Amien and the Central Axis, who now had the PKB on their side, officially nominated Abdurrahman as a presidential candidate.[32] On 19 October 1999, the MPR rejected Habibie's accountability speech and Habibie withdrew from the presidential race. In the hours that followed, Akbar Tanjung, chairman of Golkar and head of the People's Representative Council (DPR) made it clear that Golkar would support Abdurrahman in his bid for the presidency. On 20 October 1999, the MPR convened and began voting for a new president. Abdurrahman Wahid was elected as Indonesia's fourth president with 373 votes to Megawati's 313 votes.[33]

Displeased that their candidate had not won the presidency, Megawati's supporters began to riot. Abdurrahman realized that for this to stop, Megawati had to be elected as vice president. After convincing General Wiranto not to contest vice presidential elections and getting the PKB to endorse Megawati, Abdurrahman Wahid persuaded the demoralized Megawati to stand. On 21 October 1999, Megawati defeated the PPP's Hamzah Haz and was inaugurated as vice president.

Presidency (1999–2001)[edit]


1999 version of Abdurrahman Wahid's official presidential portrait
President Abdurrahman Wahid with Japanese Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi in 1999

Abdurrahman's first cabinet, dubbed the National Unity Cabinet, was a coalition cabinet which consisted of members of various political parties: PDI-P, PKB, Golkar, PPP, PAN, and the Justice Party (PK). Non-partisans and the TNI (Formerly known as ABRI) were also represented in the cabinet. Abdurrahman then went on to make two administrative reforms. The first administrative reform was to abolish the Ministry of Information, the Suharto regime's main weapon in controlling the media, while the second administrative reform was to disband the Ministry of Social Affairs which had become corrupt and extortionist under the Suharto regime.[34]

In November, Abdurrahman Wahid made his first overseas trip, visiting ASEAN member countries, Japan, the United States of America, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan. He followed this up in December by a visit to the People's Republic of China. [35]

After only a month in the National Unity Cabinet, Coordinating Minister of People's Welfare Hamzah Haz announced his resignation in November. There was suspicion that the resignation was brought about by Abdurrahman's allegation that certain members of his Cabinet were involved in corruption while he was still in America.[34] Others suggested that Hamzah's resignation was because of displeasure due to Abdurrahman's conciliatory stance towards Israel.[36]

Abdurrahman's plan in Aceh was to give it a referendum. However, this referendum would be to decide on various modes of autonomy rather than to decide on independence like in East Timor. Abdurrahman Wahid also wanted to adopt a softer stance towards Aceh by having fewer military personnel on the ground. On 30 December, Abdurrahman Wahid visited Jayapura in Papua, the province which was then known as Irian Jaya. During his visit, Abdurrhaman Abdurrahman was successful in convincing Papuan leaders that he was a force for change and even encouraged the use of the name Papua.[37]


President Abdurrahman Wahid at the 2000 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum

In January, Abdurrahman Wahid made another overseas trip to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum and visited Saudi Arabia on the way back to Indonesia. In February, Abdurrahman made another trip to Europe visiting the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. On the way back to Europe, Abdurrahman also visited India, South Korea, Thailand, and Brunei. March saw Abdurrahman visit East Timor. In April, Abdurrahman visited South Africa en route to the G77 summit in Cuba before returning via Mexico City and Hong Kong. In June, Abdurrahman Wahid once again visited America, Japan, and France with Iran, Pakistan, and Egypt as the new additions to the list of countries which he had visited.[38]

Abdurrahman Wahid admired Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's financial independence and standing up to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[39]

Dismissals of ministers[edit]

While he was travelling to Europe in February, Abdurrahman Wahid began asking for the resignation of General Wiranto, who held the position of Coordinating Minister of Politics and Security. Abdurrahman saw Wiranto both as an obstacle to his planned reform of the military as well as being a liability to his government with his human rights abuses in East Timor.[40][41] When Abdurrahman arrived back in Jakarta, Wiranto talked to him and seemed successful in convincing Abdurrahman not to replace him. However, Abdurrahman Wahid would change his mind and ask for his resignation. In April 2000, Abdurrahman Wahid dismissed Minister of Industry and Trade Jusuf Kalla and Minister of State Owned Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi. The explanation that he gave was that the two were involved in corruption, although he never gave evidence to back it up.[42] This move soured Abdurrahman's relations with Golkar and PDI-P.

Negotiations in Aceh[edit]

In March 2000, Abdurrahman's Government began to open negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Two months later, in May, the Government signed a memorandum of understanding with GAM to last until the beginning of 2001, by which time both signatories would have breached the agreement.[43]

Other overtures toward reconciliation[edit]

In March 2000, Abdurrahman Wahid suggested that the 1966 Provisional People's Consultative Assembly (MPRS) resolution on the banning of Marxism–Leninism be lifted.[44]

Abdurrahman Wahid also moved to establish commercial relations with Israel, which aroused the ire of many Indonesian Muslim groups.[45] This was one issue that arose in the briefing given to a Palestinian parliamentary delegation in 2000 by Riddhi Awad, their ambassador to Indonesia. Another issue was Abdurrahman's membership in the Shimon Peres Foundation. Both Abdurrahman Wahid and his foreign minister Alwi Shihab took offense at the inaccurate portrayals of the Indonesian president, and Alwi called for the replacement of Awad.[46] However, Nurcholish Madjid pointed out that Abdurrahman's personal neutrality toward the Israel-Palestine conflict should yield to the feelings of the "majority" of Indonesians, who support Palestine.[47] Abdurrahman visited Israel six times. In an interview with Israeli media he said,

"I think there is a wrong perception that Islam is at odds with Israel. This is due to Arab propaganda. We must distinguish between Arabs and Muslims. Some people in Indonesia claim that I am a stooge for the West, but the fact that I am gaining popularity over time dispels this idea, and shows that this is the view of only a small elite. I have always said that China and the Soviet Union owned or had atheism as part of their constitution, but we have a long-term relationship with these two countries. So Israel has a reputation as a nation that upholds God and religion—therefore there is no reason we should fight Israel."[48]

Relationship with TNI[edit]

When he ascended to the presidency, one of Abdurrahman's goals was to reform the military and to take it out of its dominant socio-political role. In this venture, Abdurrahman found an ally in Agus Wirahadikusumah who he made Commander of Kostrad in March. In July, Agus began uncovering a scandal involving Dharma Putra, a foundation with affiliations to Kostrad. Through Megawati, TNI members began pressuring Abdurrahman to remove Agus. Abdurrahman gave in to the pressure but then planned to have Agus appointed as the Army Chief of Staff to which TNI top brass responded by threatening to retire and Abdurrahman once again bowed down to pressure.[49]

Abdurrahman's relationship with the TNI deteriorated even further in July 2000 when it was revealed that Laskar Jihad had arrived in Maluku and was being armed by the TNI. Laskar Jihad, a radical Islamic militia had earlier in the year planned to go to Maluku and assist Muslims there in their communal conflict with the Christians. Abdurrahman had ordered TNI to block Laskar Jihad from going to Maluku, but nevertheless they still made it to Maluku and they were then being armed with what turned out to be TNI weapons.[50]

Buloggate and Bruneigate[edit]

2000 saw Abdurrahman embroiled in two scandals which would damage his presidency. In May, the Logistic Affairs Agency (BULOG) reported that US$4 million were missing from its cash reserve. The missing cash was then attributed to Abdurrahman's own masseur, who had claimed that Abdurrahman sent him to Bulog to collect the cash.[51] Although the money was returned, Abdurrahman's opponents took the chance of accusing him of being involved in the scandal and of being aware of what his masseur was up to. At the same time, Abdurrahman was also accused of keeping US$2 million for himself. The money was a donation by the Sultan of Brunei to provide assistance in Aceh. However, Abdurrahman failed to account for the money.

2000 MPR Annual Session and cabinet reshuffle[edit]

As the 2000 MPR Annual Session approached, Abdurrahman's popularity with the people was still at a high and politically, allies such as Megawati, Akbar, and Amien were still willing to support Abdurrahman despite the sacking of the ministers and the scandals which he had been involved in. At the same time, however, they were asking questions of Abdurrahman. At the 2000 MPR Annual Session, Abdurrahman delivered a speech which was well received by a majority of the MPR members. During the speech, Abdurrahman recognized his weakness as an administrator and said that he was going to delegate the day-to-day running of the government to a senior minister.[52] The MPR members agreed but proposed that Megawati should be the one to receive the task from the President. At first the MPR planned to have this proposal adopted as a resolution but a presidential decision was seen as enough. On 23 August, Abdurrahman announced a new cabinet despite Megawati's insistence that the announcement was delayed. Megawati showed her displeasure by not showing up for the Cabinet announcement. The new cabinet was smaller and consisted of more non-partisans. There were no Golkar members in this cabinet.

Regional unrests[edit]

In September, Abdurrahman declared martial law in Maluku as the condition there continued to deteriorate. By now, it was evident that Laskar Jihad were being assisted by TNI members and it was also apparent that they were financed by Fuad Bawazier, the last Minister of Finance to have served under Suharto. During the same month, the West Papuans raised their Morning Star flag. Abdurrahman's response was to allow the West Papuans to do this provided that the Morning Star flag was placed lower than the Indonesian flag.[53] For this, he was severely criticized by Megawati and Akbar. On 24 December 2000, there were terror attacks directed against churches in Jakarta and in eight cities across Indonesia.

Gathering political opposition[edit]

By the end of 2000, there were many within the political elite who were disillusioned with Abdurrahman. The most obvious person who showed this disillusion was Amien who showed regret at supporting Abdurrahman to the presidency the previous year. Amien also attempted to rally opposition by encouraging Megawati and Akbar to flex their political muscles. Megawati surprisingly defended Abdurrahman whilst Akbar preferred to wait for the 2004 legislative election. At the end of November, 151 DPR members signed a petition calling for the impeachment of Abdurrahman.[54]

2001 and removal from power[edit]

In January, Abdurrahman made the announcement that Chinese New Year was to become an optional holiday.[55] Abdurrahman followed this up in February by lifting the ban on the display of Chinese characters and the imports of Chinese publications. In February, Abdurrahman visited Northern Africa as well as Saudi Arabia to undertake the hajj pilgrimage.[56] Abdurrahman made his last overseas visit in June 2001 when he visited Australia.

At a meeting with university rectors on 27 January 2001, Abdurrahman commented on the possibility of Indonesia descending into anarchy. Abdurrahman then made the suggestion that he may be forced to dissolve the DPR if that happened.[57] Although the meeting was off-the-record, it caused quite a stir and added to the fuel of the movement against him. On 1 February, the DPR met to issue a memorandum against Abdurrahman. Two memorandums constitute an MPR Special Session where the impeachment and removal of a president would be legal. The vote was overwhelmingly for the memorandum and PKB members could only walk out in protest. The memorandum caused widespread protests by NU members. In East Java, NU members went around to Golkar's regional offices and trashed it. In Jakarta, Abdurrahman's opposition began accusing him of encouraging the protests. Abdurrahman denied it and went to talk to the protesters at the town of Pasuruan; encouraging them to get off the streets.[58] Nevertheless, NU protesters continued to show their support for Abdurrahman and in April, made the announcement that they were ready to defend and die for the President.

In March, Abdurrahman Wahid tried to counter the opposition by moving against dissidents within his own Cabinet. Minister of Justice Yusril Ihza Mahendra was removed for making public his demands for the President's resignation while Minister of Forestry Nur Mahmudi Ismail was also removed under the suspicion of channelling his department's funds to Abdurrahman's opposition. In response to this, Megawati began to distance herself and did not show up for the inauguration of the Ministers' replacement. On 30 April, the DPR issued a second memorandum and on the next day called for an MPR Special Session to be held on 1 August. On 12 June, he reshuffled his cabinet to shore up support.[59]

By July, Abdurrahman Wahid grew desperate and ordered Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security to declare a State of Emergency. Yudhoyono refused and Abdurrahman removed him from his position. Finally on 20 July, Amien declared that the MPR Special Session will be brought forward to 23 July. TNI, having had a bad relationship with Abdurrahman through his tenure as president, stationed 40,000 troops in Jakarta and placed tanks with their turrets pointing at the Presidential Palace in a show of force.[60] To prevent the MPR Special Session from taking place, Abdurrahman then enacted a Decree disbanding the MPR on 23 July despite having no power to do so. In defiance against Abdurrahman's decree, the MPR continued the Special Session and unanimously voted to impeach Abdurrahman Wahid. The same session also saw the MPR voted to affirm Megawati succession to the presidency, effectively replacing him. Abdurrahman Wahid continued to insist that he was the president and stayed for some days in the Presidential Palace, but eventually left the residence on 25 July for a trip overseas to the United States for health treatments.


Schism within the PKB[edit]

After his impeachment, Abdurrahman Wahid turned his eyes to Matori Abdul Djalil [id], who was the chairman of PKB. Before the MPR Special Session, it was agreed upon that no PKB members would attend as a sign of solidarity. However, Matori insisted on attending because he was a vice-chairman of the MPR and participated in the impeachment process. Using his position as chairman of the Advisory Council, Abdurrhaman Abdurrahman sacked Matori as chairman of PKB on 15 August 2001 and suspended him from party activities before stripping Matori of Party membership in November.[61] On 14 January 2002, Matori held a Special National Congress attended by his supporters in PKB. The Special National Congress re-elected him to the position of PKB chairman. Abddurahman Abdurrahman countered this by holding his own PKB National Congress on 17 January, a day after Matori's Congress ended[62] The National Congress re-elected Abdurrahman Wahid to the position of chairman of the Advisory Council and elected Alwi Shihab as its chairman. Abdurrahman's PKB would be known as PKB Kuningan whilst Matori's PKB would be known as PKB Batutulis.

2004 legislative and presidential elections[edit]

In April 2004, PKB received 10.6% of the vote[citation needed] in the national legislative election and nominated Abdurrahman as their presidential candidate, but after failing the medical examination required by Indonesian law, Abdurrahman's candidature was disqualified.[citation needed] Abdurrahman then threw his support behind Wiranto of the Golkar party, as Abdurrahman's brother, Salahuddin, was Wiranto's running mate.[63] Wiranto and Salahuddin came third. For the run-off elections, held on 20 September 2004 between candidates Yudhoyono and Megawati, Abdurrahman Wahid declared no support for either candidate and abstained from voting.[citation needed]

Opposition to Yudhoyono government[edit]

In August 2005, Abdurrahman Wahid became one of the leaders of a political coalition called the United and Awakened Archipelago (Koalisi Nusantara Bangkit Bersatu). Along with Try Sutrisno, Wiranto, Akbar Tanjung, and Megawati Sukarnoputri, this coalition criticized the policies of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government, specifically about the withdrawal of fuel subsidies which they argued would raise the price of fuel.[citation needed]

In September 2006, Abdurrahman Wahid said that he would run in the 2009 presidential election[64] He confirmed this in March 2008, at a rally of his National Awakening Party (PKB) in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.[65]

Other activities[edit]

The Abdurrahman Wahid Institute is a Jakarta-based nonprofit organization founded by Abdurrahman in 2004, now led by his daughter, Yenni Abdurrahman.[66]

Abdurrahman Wahid served as patron, member of the board of directors and senior advisor to the LibForAll ("Liberty for All") Foundation, whose mission it is to reduce religious extremism and discredit terrorism worldwide.[citation needed]

Abdurrahman Wahid wrote an article published in the Wall Street Journal on 30 December 2005 entitled Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam[67] in which he called on "people of good will of every faith and nation" to unite against the religious hatred that underlies and animates terrorism.

Abdurrahman Wahid discussed his suspicions regarding the involvement of the Indonesian government and Indonesia's armed forces in the terrorist bombings on Bali, in an interview in the documentary Inside Indonesia's War on Terrorism, aired by SBS Dateline on 12 October 2005.

Religious views[edit]

Abdurrahman Wahid said:

All religions insist on peace. From this we might think that the religious struggle for peace is simple ... but it is not. The deep problem is that people use religion wrongly in pursuit of victory and triumph. This sad fact then leads to conflict with people who have different beliefs.[68]

In a 2009 dialogue with Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda, Abdurrahman Wahid said:

The original meaning of jihad is "to strive." The jihad conducted by Mohammed was a propagation effort to strive tirelessly to communicate the truth of Allah to others. It is extremely dangerous to stray from that essential meaning... Islam is not a violent religion. It places great importance on love, and the Qur'an forbids the use of force for the sake of religion.[69]

In a 2002 interview with Australian television program, "Foreign Correspondent", Abdurrahman Wahid explained his respect for Israel and posed a challenging "correction" to be addressed by his fellow Muslims:

Israel believes in God. While we have a diplomatic relationship and recognizing diplomatically China and Russia, which are atheist states, then it's strange that we don't acknowledge Israel. This is the thing that we have to correct within Islam.[70]

Abdurrahman Wahid was an advocate of interfaith dialogue and sat on the Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute.[71]

Personal life[edit]

Abdurrahman Wahid was married to Sinta Nuriyah with whom he had four daughters: Alissa Qotrunnada Munawaroh, Zannuba Arifah Chafsoh (popularly known as Yenny Abdurrahman), Annita Hayatunnufus, and Inayah Wulandari.[72]

Health issues[edit]

Abdurrahman Wahid was visually impaired throughout his presidency,[73] although many claimed that he was able to see without assistance.[74] Nevertheless, during his inauguration as president, he was helped by an army officer who acted as an assistant by re-reading the text of presidential oath during his inauguration.[75] His eyesight began to deteriorate due to glaucoma since 1985,[76] and worsened by an accident where he was hit by a car which resulted in the loss of a retina.[77] Consequently, he was helped by some trusted assistants who acted as his "eyes".[78][79] He was also alleged to have sleeping disorder as he was sometimes caught sleeping during important cabinet meetings.[80][81]


Abdurrahman Wahid's grave in Jombang

In late December 2009, despite poor health and a recent hospital visit, Abdurrahman asked to be taken to visit Rembang (situated in Central Java) and Jombang. During the trip his health worsened and Abdurrahman was admitted to hospital in Jombang on 24 December 2009. He was moved to Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Central Jakarta the following day to undergo dialysis.[82] He also underwent dental surgery on 28 December after complaining of toothache.[83][84][85] Abdurrahman died on 30 December at approximately 6:45 pm local time (UTC+7) due to complications from kidney disorders, heart disease and diabetes. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Abdurrahman shortly before his death.[86][87][88] A state funeral was held for Abdurrahman on 31 December, and flags were flown at half-staff for seven days.[89][90] He was buried next to his grandparents and parents at his birthplace, Jombang, East Java.[91]


National honours[edit]



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External links[edit]

Interview on SBS Dateline[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of Indonesia
20 October 1999 – 23 July 2001
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
National Awakening Party nominee
for President of Indonesia

1999 (won)
Succeeded by