Gus Dur will live to fight another day
The Indonesian President faces a hostile parliament today amid charges of corruption, but he is unlikely to surrender to a divided opposition.
President Abdurrahman Wahid’s party loyalists enter the lion’s den of an increasingly hostile Parliament today to defend him against corruption charges.
But the prospect may not be so frightening to the beleaguered Indonesian leader.
The lion’s teeth and claws are blunt and the intended victim – Mr Abdurrahman Wahid – could prove to be very nimble in meeting the strongest challenge yet to his rule.
On paper, the threat looks serious.
The President has been implicated by a parliamentary commission report that finds him guilty of complicity in two damning financial scandals.
More than 60 per cent of the 500-member House of Representatives (DPR) is likely to accept the findings. And there is a strong possibility that the legislature will issue a censure memorandum that could be the first step in a five-month process to unseat the Muslim cleric.
But even the President’s opponents concede that the process of impeachment is complicated and the legal grounds could be challenged at every step.
After all, the 34-page report by the probe team offers no new or conclusive proof that the President benefited from the Bulogate or Bruneigate scandals.
The panel based its findings largely on a closed-door hearing and circumstantial evidence that could get thrown out of court.
And it is not just the report that is up for scrutiny. Mr Abdurrahman and his supporters consider the 50-member panel to be “constitutionally illegal”.
Parliament might fire a warning memorandum and give the President three months to respond. But will his opponents have the political stamina for a battle of attrition?
Mr Abdurrahman’s support is very slender. He can only count on the PKB that makes up just 12 per cent of Parliament. But in his favour is a divided opposition.
The Central Axis, an ad-hoc coalition of Muslim parties, is going for the jugular, pushing for a special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).
Others, like the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar – the two largest groups in Parliament – are more moderate, preferring not to slug it out.
They might be hoping less to get rid of the President altogether than to wrangle concessions out of him by firing a “warning shot” of a memorandum.
Fending off hostile legislators is not enough for Mr Abdurrahman. He will also have to deal with student demonstrators. Ten thousand protesters trying to barge into the Parliamentary complex, as they did in the months before Mr Suharto’s fall, might be a premonition of things to come.
But the demonstrations are not of a scale that is politically threatening. They have failed to generate the momentum they did two years ago, largely because of acute divisions in the student movement.
There is no common rallying cry. And if there are protests against the President, there is always the threat of counter-demonstrations by his supporters.
The last two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are the armed forces (TNI) and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
While it is true that the military is warming up to Ms Megawati, it is unlikely that the generals in the TNI headquarters would attempt to unseat the President through a conventional coup d’etat.
Mr Abdurrahman might think otherwise mainly due to the efforts of rogue military elements to destabilise his government through bloody acts of violence.
But most active senior officers maintain that his presence in the political arena is not an insurmountable barrier to the TNI’s core area of interest – security policy – in which it is running its own show.
Noted a four-star general: “We can live with Gus Dur for now even if he does not provide effective leadership. In the long run though we would prefer someone like Megawati. There will be greater certainty under her leadership.”
Mr Abdurrahman’s political survival has always hinged on the daughter of Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno. It remains unclear whether she has any interest in unseating him.
PDI-P sources say that she is likely to maintain this stance given her aversion to any “unconstitutional acts” that could ironically rebound on her if she became President.
Ms Megawati’s “lack of resolve” in making a bid for the top job is Gus Dur’s strength.
It is instructive that the Vice-President had ordered members of the PDI-P, which she leads, not to take part in the demonstrations against the President.
It is not inconceivable that the President could use strong-arm tactics if support from Ms Megawati and the military waivers.
He has not been shy in recent weeks to suggest extra-parliamentary means to hold onto power and to dissolve the DPR if it attempts to impeach him.
All these suggest a protracted battle in the months ahead where opponents try to chip away at his standing in the hope of forcing his resignation at the August MPR session.
Mr Abdurrahman will survive this round.
But the jury is still out on whether he can last until 2004.