Indonesia: Getting Desperate

Getting desperate: President Wahid thrashes about for a solution to his myriad woes (Photo: AFP).

With only a month and a half left before the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) special session on Aug. 1, which will consider whether Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid should be dismissed from office, Indonesia’s embattled leader is pulling out all the stops. After reshuffling his cabinet and declaring a state of emergency that would allow him to dissolve parliament, he began sacking ministers from his economic team.

According to press reports, Wahid’s recent firings and appointments are aimed at mending fences with estranged Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is likely to succeed Wahid if he is impeached. According to Jakarta’s independent Kompas (June 2), Wahid said his new appointments would “[ensure] that relations [with Megawati] will not be dissolved.”

In reaction to the impending MPR session, supporters of Gus Dur, as the president is nicknamed, have attacked the homes and offices of rival parties, including the National Mandate Party, the Muhammadiyah, a Muslim party, and the Golkar Party, which was led by former dictator Suharto. Wahid has done little to dissuade the demonstrators.

These violent protests are due in large part to fanatical adoration of a leader who Indonesians believed would rebuild the country after Suharto’s corrupt regime. Supporters see Wahid, once the head of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest traditionalist Muslim organization, as a moral authority, even a holy man.

Parliament called for the MPR session after Wahid ignored a second memorandum from the House regarding the president’s alleged misuse of funds from both the State Logistics Agency and the Sultan of Brunei.

But Wahid remains unfazed by the upcoming session. According to Jakarta’s independent newsmagazine Tempo (June 8), Wahid said that a decree by the MPR must not lead to an evaluation of the president and the government.

The independent Jakarta Post feared that the MPR session would not improve the crisis of leadership in Indonesia, but only exacerbate the country’s plethora of political, economic, and social woes. A June 1 editorial said, “While this may be the constitutional path, it is not necessarily the best course for Indonesia, because it is potentially divisive and will leave a bitter aftertaste, particularly among the sup-
porters of the combative president.”

In Australia, the centrist Canberra Times (June 2) wrote, “Should the campaign succeed, parliament will have set a precedent it could well live to regret. So too could Australia, which has done nothing to assist the fledgling democracy.”

The author is Assistant Editor of World Press Review

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