Gus Dur vows to reopen case

President will ask the Chief Justice to provide judges who ‘cannot be bought’ to reopen case against Suharto.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, attempting to contain the political fallout from the collapse of the multi-million-dollar corruption case against former President Suharto, has vowed to have it reopened.

In what some observers regarded as a move to placate his administration’s critics, the Muslim cleric attacked the legal system and suggested that the judges who dismissed the case were “biased” in their verdict.

“We have been too lenient,” he told reporters on Thursday while on a flight from Venezuela to Brazil, part of his 10-day trip to South America.

“Even a thief stealing a chicken can end up in jail. Pak Harto was not locked up in jail, but left at home.”

The President disclosed that he had telephoned Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, who has already said that he intends to “fight for justice” in the appeals court.

Reflecting widely-held sentiments about the country’s legal system, Mr Abdurrahman said he would ask the Chief Justice to provide judges who are “clean, determined and cannot be bought” to reopen the case.

In a shock ruling on Thursday, a panel of five judges freed Mr Suharto from the possibility of jail after declaring that he was medically unfit to stand trial. His travel ban and house arrest were also lifted.

Sources told The Straits Times that at least two of the judges received death threats days before the trial.

“This means that the government will have a tough time going after Suharto again, given the pervasiveness of militia-style tactics in Jakarta now,” said one senior official who declined to be named. ”No judge is going to put his life on the line to hang Suharto.”

Besides, it would also be difficult to launch an appeal, given that the former leader had already been declared “permanently unfit” to stand trial by an independent team of court-appointed doctors.

Mr Marzuki acknowledged that “it will not be an easy ride” for the prosecution, given such legal technicalities.

His office had, on Wednesday, asked the judges to carry out a trial in absentia. But this was rejected outright by all of the five judges.

Under such circumstances, Mr Abdurrahman’s comments from South America appears to be a “shot in the dark” as he now has to grapple with forces, and foes, that might use the dismissal of the case to undermine his government’s credibility even further.

The dilemma Mr Abdurrahman had faced was in balancing his political survival with public expectations that the 79-year-old former general would be convicted.

The President’s failure to deliver has now shattered the edifice of his government’s reform agenda.

Diplomatic sources said that even with Mr Suharto’s youngest son Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra about to be put behind bars after his conviction in a land scam, there will continue to be residual resentment against the administration for letting Mr Suharto go free.

The most likely pressure-point will come, not from legislators, but from activists and student groups who fought pitched battles with security forces on Thursday after the court verdict.

Police and military personnel were placed on alert yesterday for possible fresh violence. Although nothing happened, reports here said the alert would be heightened over the weekend, given that the government’s decision to raise fuel prices by 12 per cent will take effect tomorrow.

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