Jakarta : Vast majority for censuring President

ASIAN SHOWDOWNS

Parliament’s move makes it unlikely for Gus Dur to finish his term but no backlash from supporters as feared.

President Abdurrahman Wahid faces likely impeachment after legislators voted overwhelmingly yesterday to issue a second censure against him, after hours of gruelling debate when they accused him of corruption and failing to live up to the demands of his job.

In a late evening open vote at Parliament, 363 legislators voted to censure him while 52 opposed the move and 42 – primarily representatives from the military – abstained.

The issue of a second censure memorandum, which increases the likelihood that Mr Abdurrahman will not complete his term, is also likely to see a scramble for new alliances in the political elite with his deputy, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, who would take over.

That process could mean political uncertainty in the months ahead for a country still threatened by mass violence and struggling to recover economically.

But even though Jakarta was again on edge, the day passed peacefully.

And there was no backlash from supporters of the President – including suicide squads – who had threatened to wreak havoc should Parliament censure him and set the impeachment process in motion.

Security forces sealed off the Parliament complex with men, iron barricades and razor-sharp wires.

A potentially bloody conflict was averted when thousands of his supporters pulled back from a planned march to Parliament.

With the exception of a 6,000-strong rally at the National Monument, the security presence and morning rain appeared to have put paid to whatever plans his supporters might have had.

Loyalists at the presidential palace yesterday rejected the censure as “unconstitutional” and vowed that the 60-year-old leader would serve out the remainder of his term until 2004.

But the legislators had their own ideas.

Seven of the 10 parliamentary factions, led by the two largest – the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and Golkar – endorsed a second censure swiftly.

Only his Nation Awakening Party and another minor faction defended him.

The armed forces tried to maintain neutrality by not stating if it wanted a second censure. But its representatives indicated that it would go along with the majority.

Legislators who spoke accused Mr Abdurrahman of failing to respond adequately to the first censure issued in February. He was also criticised for not mending the battered economy and failing to stop separatist and communal tensions.

His implied threat to resort to violence to stay in power also angered them.

PDI-P legislator Dwiria Latifa noted: “Such threats are not what we expect from the President of this country.”

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