Can they find a middle way in Indonesia?

WHEN thousands of President Abdurrahman Wahid’s supporters razed Golkar offices in East Java, they also burned a part of Indonesia’s democracy.

More than anything else, the brinksmanship of Mr Abdurrahman and his opponents is pushing Indonesia towards self-destruction, undermining its prospects for a sustained economic recovery and stable government.

In the midst of deep-seated problems like spiralling debt, corruption, violent demonstrations and separatism in Aceh and Irian Jaya, why are politicians indulging in myopic struggles?

The President is in no mood to surrender despite his diminished standing.

He told a group of students in Jakarta last week: “My government is effective. See in Aceh, security has improved bit by bit…The trains run on time, also the planes.”

With his job at stake, offence has become the best form of defence for the Indonesian leader.

For almost a week, his supporters ran wild in East Java, demanding that legislators drop the censure memorandum against him and allow him to stay on until 2004.

Did the President have a hand in the protest? The threat of coercion through his 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulamahas (NU) has always been his trump card to scare off rivals.

His ambiguous condemnation of the NU’s atavistic tendencies was instructive. It was the “price to pay for democracy”, he maintained.

The political cauldron is burning because his enemies are also preparing for a war of attrition.

It is bitter irony that the man who spearheaded Mr Abdurrahman’s rise to power is now working to engineer his ouster by garnering support to impeach him.

For National Assembly Chairman Amien Rais, this is just the continuation of opposition methods honed during the Suharto years.

Some observers say there is hope for the “middle way” in the moderating influence of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar and the armed forces.

As a senior Cabinet minister told The Straits Times: “With both Gus Dur and his rivals taking a winner-takes-all approach, there is no other way out except confrontation that can spill on to the streets. We need a middle way.”

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