Wahid's bluff fails to sway his Indonesian opponents

Indonesia's president backed off from a threat to declare martial law yesterday.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid's efforts to hold on to office in the face of a hostile parliament are growing increasingly desperate.

The Indonesian parliament will meet on Wednesday to vote on whether to begin impeachment proceedings. The process could continue until August, however Wahid's erratic behavior is causing the political elites to quicken the pace.

The leaders of parliament's three largest parties have all said that efforts to impeach the president, over two financial scandals, will go ahead. If Wahid is impeached, his popular vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is expected to take over.

In response to these moves, the ailing president has stepped up efforts to intimidate the nation's politicians. But diplomats and analysts here say that Wahid's brinkmanship shows him to be dangerously out of touch.

They say he is creating a politically unstable situation that could weaken the currency and create massive unrest in his power base of East Java. And in the end, they say, he will still be driven from power.

Wahid has issued threats to dissolve parliament, warned that numerous provinces would "immediately "secede" if he falls from office, and claimed that a plot to declare Indonesia an Islamic state is what really lies behind parliament's impeachment effort.

Though he has repeatedly threatened to use the military to hold power, the military has just as often said it would not back any unconstitutional power grabs by Wahid. Political opponents say it's all part of an attempt to invent a crisis that can justify holding onto power.

Wahid and his aides have also denied that a majority of legislators support impeachment, despite clear evidence to the contrary in parliament's voting record. "They're not telling the truth,'' says one close Wahid aide, when asked why politicians consistently say they don't support the president.

On Sunday, Wahid's spokesman said the president would declare a state of emergency if parliament votes on Wednesday to go forward with impeachment. Opposition politicians claimed they had been privately warned by the palace that arrests of leading opponents of Wahid would also follow.

Yesterday, Wahid backed away from that stance. In a presidential decree read on national television, Wahid said that he had ordered Political Affairs and Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to "tackle the crisis, in coordination with the security forces, to enforce law and order.''

Wahid's vaguely worded statement was reminiscent of the decree that handed power to the military in 1966 by Indonesia's first President, Sukarno. That decree led to the 32-year dictatorship of Suharto, who fell in 1998, and created a flurry of nervous rumors in the capital.

But Mr. Susilo later clarified Wahid's statement, telling reporters: "There won't be a state of emergency or martial law.''

Later in the day, even members of Wahid's own National Awakening Party (PKB) seemed to be distancing themselves from the embattled and erratic leader. PKB chairman Matori Abdul Djalil called for a commitment to the constitutional process in a speech in parliament. "To the whole PKB family and all Indonesians, you should remain calm, avoid anarchy and act rationally,'' he said.

That was a sharp contrast to the fanatical Wahid supporters who claimed they have formed "suicide squads'' in East Java that will come to Jakarta to exact revenge if Wahid falls.

In East Java yesterday, thousands of Wahid's supporters, who revere him as an Islamic leader, attacked a university, blocked roads with burning tires, and set fire to dozens of buildings of rival political organizations, reported The Associated Press. In the town of Pasuruan, a crowd burned two offices that belonged to the party of Vice President Sukarnoputri.

The President has not condemned the violence. However, the military has continued to hold firm, threatening to shoot any rioters with live ammunition.

The PKB is the fourth-largest party in parliament, with just under 10 percent of the seats. Indonesia's parliament elects the president, and Wahid was the surprising victor in October of 1999 after Megawati, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle is the largest in parliament, failed to build a coalition.

Wahid was also able to play on Moslem opposition to a woman president and built a local and international image of himself as a tolerant democrat who could help unite Indonesia after its first free elections in four decades.

Instead, he has drifted further out of touch with the nation's economic and political problems, forcing even some of his closest allies to turn against him. The influential daily, The Jakarta Post, which hailed Wahid when he was elected, ran an editorial yesterday calling for his ouster.

"It has now become clear that the President will stop at nothing to prevent his downfall,'' the paper wrote. "To him, the end seems to justify the means, even if it means further destroying the country.... Abdurrahman's presidency is in danger, but the rest of the nation is not, that is, unless he abuses his office.''

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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