Gus Dur’s position safe – for now

President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday won a five-month reprieve, saved from an early exit orchestrated by the legislators who propelled him to power 15 months ago.

With the threat of mass unrest hovering in the background and calls for a state of emergency in East Java, the armed forces (TNI) yesterday took the cue from Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri in ruling out an early impeachment of the Muslim cleric.

One day after Ms Megawati said “no”, the generals who lined up behind her PDI-P party last week to implicate the president in damning graft scandals said that attempts to speed up a special session of parliament were “unconstitutional”.

Military spokesman Graito Usodo told The Straits Times that any hearing had to follow the rules, which set out a four-month timeframe, before an impeachment session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) could be convened.

“Gus Dur is a legitimately elected president,” he said. “The TNI does not want to take sides with anyone … We want things to be done in accordance with the Constitution.”

An army general with the 38-member TNI faction in parliament said: “It is no secret that our thinking is very similar to the PDI-P’s. We prefer a gradual approach …

“A quick-fix solution is a recipe for more violence. Do you expect Gus Dur’s supporters to be good losers?”

Such concerns were borne out by unrest in East Java yesterday, with the president’s supporters running wild for a fifth day as legislators called on the government to impose a state of emergency there.

Mr Abdurrahman’s response: the violence was the price Indonesians had to pay for democracy.

Police used tear gas to disperse rock-throwing protesters there after thousands demanded death for those trying to impeach Mr Abdurrahman.

Police sources said 20,000 people, waving sickles and machetes, besieged the Golkar party office in Surabaya and burned effigies of the President’s rivals.

The Straits Times understands that several Muslim parties were still being egged on by MPR chairman Amien Rais to oust the president before the 100 days guaranteed him by the Constitution to respond to their censure note.

Observers said that they stood little chance, given the “no-go” from Ms Megawati, who commands the largest party in parliament.

Golkar was also likely to follow the PDI-P and military despite being at loggerheads with the president.

Diplomatic sources said that while Mr Abdurrahman has more breathing space now, it was unlikely that Ms Megawati and the generals – both of whom have been needled and betrayed by him several times – would want to give him more than five months.

Noted a Western diplomat: “The key is Mega. She has decided that it is time for her to move in.

“But she and the military want to do it in a way that allows them to hold the moral high ground. They want to appear more constitutional than the others.”

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