Parliament censures embattled Gus Dur

President’s party stages a walk-out as legislators vote overwhelmingly to accept panel report that implicated him in two financial scandals.

The Indonesian parliament last night decided to issue a formal censure letter against President Abdurrahman Wahid, a move which could lead to a lengthy impeachment process over his alleged involvement in two corruption scandals.

The announcement was made after hours of gruelling negotiations between parties. Earlier, as 15,000 demonstrators massed outside the heavily-guarded Parliament and state palace, with two-thirds calling on the cleric to quit, legislators voted overwhelmingly to accept a damning panel report that implicated him in two financial scandals that have captivated the country for months.

There was a dramatic walk-out by the President’s Nation Awakening Party, as 393 members of the 500-strong Parliament voted against him. Then all 10 factions met separately to decide his political fate.

They were presented with three options.

One was a warning. There could also be a formal memorandum that would be a first step towards impeachment proceedings. The third was the most radical: an emergency session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) within a month.

The three options emerged after a day of scathing attacks by parliamentary factions against Mr Abdurrahman for his involvement in the Bulogate and Bruneigate scandals.

In a bitter irony, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) had Mr Laksamana Sukardi, whom the President sacked from his Cabinet on vague charges of corruption, fire the first salvo in an impassioned 15-minute speech.

“He has seriously damaged economic and social stability in the country by taking part in these scandals,” he told cheering legislators.

PDI-P sources said that the speech and the choice of Mr Laksamana as spokesman were cleared by its chairman and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Noted a senior PDI-P legislator: “Ibu Mega … just wanted us to do what we thought was best for the country. She said to vote with one voice.

“I think she might be coming to her senses that she can’t stand by idly and accept everything Gus Dur does.” Parliamentary sources said earlier that even if there was a hardening of stance against the President, the PDI-P – and the still-influential military – preferred to give him a warning.

They said Ms Megawati, in particular, did not want to give the impression she was “eager to grab power”.

Golkar and three other factions were in favour of issuing him a formal memorandum. The censure motion would give the President three months to respond to the charges levelled against him.

If Parliament is not satisfied with his explanation, it could issue him a second memorandum and, a month later, call for a special MPR session to begin impeachment proceedings.

But the Muslim-oriented United Development Party and the Reform faction wanted to go direct to an emergency MPR session.

Said Hj Akmar Hafiz: “We have to listen to the people’s aspirations.

“Our President lied to them. He is not fit to run this country any more.”

Golkar and PDI-P legislators, however, said they were unlikely to support the motion.

With political temperatures running high in Indonesia, it was finally decided to take the “moderate option” of censuring him through a memorandum.

Sources told The Straits Times that the Attorney-General’s Office had also begun preliminary investigations into whether Mr Abdurrahman had embezzled funds.

The President, who has persistently denied any wrongdoing, was silent yesterday in the face of the DPR challenge and rowdy student demonstration that wound down in the evening rain.

He held a Cabinet meeting in the afternoon with Ms Megawati and other ministers to discuss the capital’s political and security situation.

Spokesman Wimar Witoelar said: “He still maintains that he did not lie to the public.”

Posted in Indonesia