Gus Dur faces final showdown

The plot seemed straightforward enough.

President Abdurrahman Wahid’s ardent foes hoped that the first vote of censure in Parliament would play out a bit like the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

They would round up a posse of other opposition parties and go gunning for the Indonesian leader by firing a second censure memorandum.

A successful vote of no confidence would bring him down by August this year. Wishful thinking? Perhaps not. For the first time in 18 months, the gunslingers are of one mind and appear set to join the shoot-out.

Indonesia’s once disunited bunch of legislators have gelled together with one common aim: to oust Mr Abdurrahman from power and pave the way for a Megawati presidency.

Legislators from the key parliamentary factions are showing signs that they can launch and sustain the battle after having fumbled in previous gunfights.

Importantly, that momentum is being driven by different political agendas that for some parties are focused on the 2004 election.

Leading the charge for the Central Axis, an ad-hoc coalition of Muslim parties, is Dr Amien Rais, chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country’s highest legislative body.

Ironically, it was Dr Amien who in October 1999 paved the way for Mr Abdurrahman to be elected as president. A large proportion of the 373 votes he garnered came from the Central Axis.

But how times have changed for the long-time rivals who stuck together then out of political expediency.

Dr Amien went on the offensive just months after Mr Abdurrahman took office, squabbling over Cabinet appointments and public policy initiatives.


PROBLEMS came to a head last year when the President sacked the finance minister Bambang Sudibyo who belonged to the National Mandate Party (PAN), which Dr Amien leads.

Since then, nursing a personal grudge against the President, he has sought to galvanise the other Muslim factions like the United Development Party (PPP), the Crescent Star Party (PBB) and Justice Party against him.

Dr Amien told The Straits Times in an interview recently: “He has to realise that he got to where he is because of my support for him. I sometimes ask myself why I pushed so hard for him to be President. It was a mistake.”

That is the crux of the matter. PAN believes its mistake in supporting Mr Abdurrahman has dented badly the party’s image. Noted a senior party legislator: “In the 2004 election, we don’t want to be identified as the party which picked the wrong President. We are trying to undo what we had done.”

That is not easy. But Dr Amien is not pulling his punches and continues to plot the President’s downfall.

He has made it clear that he wants Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, even getting other Muslim politicians to drop gender as an issue for the top post.

The PPP and PBB have come on board because they too share a vested interest in getting rid of Mr Abdurrahman. Like PAN, they have lost out on prized Cabinet positions.

Indeed, PPP chairman Hamzah Haz was the first minister to be axed from the coalition government just three months after it was formed. He is baying for blood.

A PPP cadre quoted him as saying: “Asking him to resign is too easy. It is better to get him to step down in a special session. We will shame the man.”

Mr Hamzah, in particular, has been trying hard to rope in the more moderate legislators from Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P) to stay on course with the impeachment timetable.

He has also been trying to cultivate the traditionalist Muslim ground by meeting clerics of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) in West and East Java, South Sumatra, Lampung and Kalimantan.

For the PPP, the battle to win Muslim votes in the 2004 poll has started, with attempts to undermine the credibility of Mr Abdurrahman and his Nation Awakening Party (PKB).

Toppling him could just lead to a swing in votes away from the PKB to Mr Hamzah’s party.

The immediate aim, of course, is to clinch the vice-presidency and other key cabinet posts if Ms Megawati moves up.

Golkar’s support for her is not predicated on getting a share of the political pie. It is only interested in the survival of the one-time ruling party. Its chief Akbar Tandjung, who is also parliamentary speaker, is playing a clever game of deception. Publicly, he talks about the need for a political compromise. But behind the scenes, he and his cadres are working the ground against the President.

Last month, for example, sources said he sought to convince Ms Megawati’s husband Taufik Kiemas of the potential pitfalls of any power sharing deal with Mr Abdurrahman.

For one, the President had never kept to his word in any deal. And if there was one now, she had to tread carefully because she could be made a scapegoat if things went wrong.

Golkar has also been digging up more dirt on the President. After taking the lead in exposing the Bulogate and Bruneigate financial scandals, it is leaking charges that the Indonesian leader and his supporters pocketed US$90 million (S$163 million), received from several Middle Eastern countries as aid for the restive Aceh province.


THE latest expose is retaliation for a witch-hunt of Golkar members, including Mr Akbar and former economic czar Ginandjar Kartasasmita, for alleged corruption. That is why bringing down Mr Abdurrahman is an imperative for Golkar. Ms Megawati, of course, becomes the political beneficiary if this happens.

Together with her PDI-P party, which commands the largest presence in Parliament and the support of other factions, she will sail through with a substantial majority.

The daughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno appears to have made up her mind that she is ready to take over power after appearing hesitant initially.

That volte face is a result of the dramatic slide in personal relations with the President who for a long time was known as a “close friend”.

The deterioration is linked to a number of factors. Diplomatic sources said that the most glaring was an allegation made by the President about Ms Megawati and her alleged close links to an adjutant.

Mr Abdurrahman has also threatened to crack down on the business activities of Mr Taufik if the PDI-P persists in seeking to impeach him.

Close aides said that another sore point was the President’s failure to deliver on his pledge last August to allow her to run day-to-day affairs of government. He has instead continued to intervene periodically and not consulted her on Cabinet changes.

To widen the growing rift, he has cast doubt publicly on her ability to run the country. Ms Megawati’s preference is for him to resign voluntarily.

Sources said she broached the idea with him during a breakfast meeting on March 19, attended by Chief Security Minister Bambang Yudhoyono and military chief A.S. Widodo.

She explained that when former president Suharto chose to step down, he was freed from the humiliation of a special MPR session. She also reminded him of Indonesia’s dire political and economic situation.

The President was not happy with what he heard. Even more so, when his deputy did not seem interested in his much-hyped power-sharing idea, which has little support from the PDI-P or most other parties.

Sources close to the Vice-President said that while she was “psychologically predisposed” to taking over the reins of power, she had maintained the moral high ground and refused to give in to pressure from Dr Amien and the Central Axis to speed up the impeachment process.

If the President did not resign, then it meant sticking to the stipulated four-month time frame following the first censure motion against Mr Abdurrahman for his involvement in two financial scandals. This could lead to impeachment proceedings in June.

She is wary of trusting politicians who at one time were her strongest critics. A senior Cabinet source told The Straits Times: “Ibu Mega’s afraid of karma. She is afraid that if she joins others in forcing Gus Dur out of office, Amien and his friends will one day do the same thing to her.”

The machinations of the Muslim parties are a concern for for the PDI-P which wants to keep Ms Megawati in power beyond 2004.

That is why several of her legislators have come up with “conditions” attached to Ms Megawati’s agreeing to an early takeover of power at the Muslim parties’ behest.

These included a guarantee that she would not be challenged before her term ended, getting rid of the annual MPR session and leaving the number two post vacant. Most parties did not seem to have any problems with the conditions.


BUT the point relating to the vice-presidency generated some concern. The main opposition comes from the Muslim parties vying for the deputy’s post. Mr Fadli Zon of the PBB, which has slated its chairman Yusril Mahendra for the position, said a vice-president was needed for “checks and balances”.

He said: “There is a lot of work to be done. Megawati can’t run the government all by herself. We need a vice-president to help her. She and the PDI-P must not be scared that this person will pose a threat.”

The parties are united in their commitment to replacing Mr Abdurrahman this year. But there is no guarantee that this fluid alliance will stick together after accomplishing its aim.

There will be more political gunfights, plots and counter-plots, as Indonesia heads ominously for a period of Italian-style, revolving-door governments where every public policy issue is put through the grinder of party politics.

Indonesian legislators all had a hand in creating the Abdurrahman presidency. They all played a role in assembling the dysfunctional Cabinet he was saddled with.

They will also do the same for Ms Megawati because their short-term interests coincide. But what is to stop them from pointing the barrel at her when things go wrong?

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