Slew of decrees as session ends

REVERSING PAST INJUSTICES, CURTAILING POWERS OF PRESIDENT, MILITARY

JAKARTA – A special session of Indonesia’s highest legislative chamber closed last night, satisfied that it had exercised new-found freedom to meet public demands at least halfway, as troops battled students and ordinary citizens to keep them away.

In a formal closing ceremony, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) presented President B.J. Habibie with a slew of decrees aimed at reversing the injustices of the past, cutting down the powers of the presidency and the military, and endorsing his election agenda.

Despite the massive street protests yesterday, the largest since Dr Habibie took over from Mr Suharto in the wake of a student occupation of Parliament in May, his position appeared to be still secure from any unconstitutional challenges.

Military chief General Wiranto, unwilling to risk an anarchic situation, was resisting calls from his own generals to tell Dr Habibie that he should consider stepping down as he no longer had the trust of the people, sources said.

Two scenarios top generals have come up with include replacing Dr Habibie with either Gen Wiranto or the Sultan of Yogyakarta.

Another sees the general propping up the presidency by filling in the now-vacant vice-presidency.

A third scenario talked about by legislators invokes a “4+1 formula”, with Gen Wiranto joining a presidium formed by four opposition leaders with some national standing and popular with students – Muslim leaders Abdurrahman Wahid and Amien Rais, Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of founding president Sukarno, and the Sultan of Yogyakarta.

All three scenarios carry connotations of martial law and raise further questions about constitutional legitimacy. Still, it would appear that the fate of the Habibie presidency lies in Gen Wiranto’s hands.

As of Thursday night, he had assumed direct operational command of troops maintaining security, sources said. Yesterday’s clashes suggested there was a firm resolve to stop disruptions to the MPR session.

Inside, as legislators droned on in speech after speech in the afternoon while rubber bullets flew and clouds of tear gas fumes hovered over Jakarta’s main artery barely 2 km away, the “sense of unreality” was not lost on ruling Golkar faction leader Marzuki Darusman.

“The contrast with what’s happening outside is stark,” he told The Straits Times over the telephone shortly before returning to the session to request a five-minute break at 5 pm to confer with the MPR Speaker and his deputies about moving up the scheduled closing ceremony in the light of the latest developments.

Earlier in the day, legislators had hailed the protests as positive spurs to encourage them to reach consensus on difficult decisions.

“The student protests have helped members to focus on the priorities. We can’t afford to pass decrees not in accordance with the general aspirations of the people,” said Golkar legislator Dewi Fortuna Anwar, who is also President Habibie’s spokesman.

Prompted by continual threats of a protest invasion, legislators decided to add into a decree on fighting corruption a new paragraph directing the government to look into malpractices by retired and active officers as well as business people.

Specific reference was also made to businesses owned by Mr Suharto and his family in a clear bid to pass the onus for investigating the former president back to the government.

Despite a walkout by the opposition United Development Party (PPP) legislators early yesterday morning, the other factionsalso agreed to “scale back” and eventually terminate the military’s presence in Parliament.

The PPP, attempting to cater to popular demands for an immediate pullout by Abri, had walked out when it could not get other parties meeting in committee to agree to a secret vote on the issue. The other factions had suggested an open poll.

Mr Marzuki said the decisions met public demands “halfway”. “It’s a turning point. This is an assembly trying to restore its legitimacy by adopting issues that are clearly deeply felt by the public.”

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