Factions unite to demand Gus Dur removal

MPs to go ahead with impeachment of President despite his continuing threats to call state of emergency.

Political battlelines were drawn yesterday on the eve of a crucial parliamentary session as legislators finalised a draft calling for the impeachment of President Abdurrahman Wahid, who continued to wave the threat of emergency rule.

Undaunted by the growing scale of violence in East Java, which senior military sources believe could be used by the palace for a nationwide clampdown, including disbanding Parliament, MPs from key factions huddled for last-minute talks to replace the Indonesian leader.

Perhaps the most significant boost to plans to oust Mr Abdurrahman was the green light given yesterday by Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri to back a special session of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the country’s highest legislative body.

Chairing a meeting of her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), Ms Megawati, the key pillar of support during the President’s 19-month rule, rejected Mr Abdurrahman’s peace deal and ordered her senior cadres to support impeachment plans.

Said Mr Arifin Panigoro, head of the PDI-P faction in Parliament: “This is now the party line.”

But Defence Minister Mahfud MD warned that the President, citing potential violence by his supporters, was still threatening emergency rule.

The armed forces (TNI), which has opposed his radical game plan, now believe that Mr Abdurrahman is leaning towards using a state of emergency as a real option to hang on to power.

Said a two-star army general: “He still thinks he can win this battle…but it is going to backfire.”

MPR Speaker Amien Rais said he received a draft from lawmakers which made their intentions clear.

“There is a consensus now that the President should be impeached,” he told The Straits Times. “The legislators are in no mood to compromise. It is for the good of this country that Gus Dur should go.”

That view is now shared by seven factions in Parliament, but is opposed by the President’s Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and another minority party.

Sources here said that Mr Abdurrahman, mindful of the latest developments, sent Parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung a note yesterday, making clear that legislators had little grounds to press ahead.

The letter repeated that investigations by the Attorney-General’s Office found no evidence to link the 60-year-old leader to two damning financial scandals that were the basis of Parliament’s censures.

But parliamentary leaders brushed aside the note, with one saying it was “too late in the game now to do anything to save him”.

Sources said that several MPs who met Mr Akbar yesterday complained about threats that they would be killed if they went ahead with impeachment plans.

But the upshot of the meeting was that there was no other alternative.

Said Golkar member Aulia Rahman: “I don’t think we are going to allow him to get any concessions from us by resorting to dirty tricks.

“But we are concerned that he would resort to violence throughout the country if we call for a special session.”

Indeed, the threat of violence from supporters of his 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) may be one of the final cards the President might play.

Yesterday, thousands of NU supporters ran riot in East Java, torching two churches in Pasuruan and attempting to storm the local parliament in Surabaya. Police fired warning shots but the demonstrators responded by throwing fireworks and burning tyres.

Thousands of supporters also made their way to the capital. Police searched train and bus passengers on arrival and confiscated sickles, machetes, bamboo spears and other weapons.

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