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Indonesia's Wahid censured, instability deepens

Indonesia's Wahid censured, instability deepens

Indonesia's parliament on Monday censured President Abdurrahman Wahid a second time over two graft scandals, setting the stage for his possible impeachment and more instability for the troubled country.

During a vote taken late on Monday, 363 MPs from the 500-seat parliament approved the censure in a decision that heaps pressure on Wahid to step down and increases speculation he will not survive politically to serve out his term which expires in 2004.

"With this result... the plenary session issues a second memorandum (censure)," Sutardjo Soerjogoeritno, deputy parliament speaker, told the House.

Wahid has denied any wrongdoing over the two multi-million dollar scandals and his spokesman said last week the Muslim cleric would not quit even if the second rebuke was delivered.

Any formal impeachment process could still take months, but Wahid's days as leader of the world's fourth most populous country appear numbered after a rocky 18-month rule.

About 15,000 Wahid supporters - many wearing headbands, face paint and waving sticks - marched through the streets of the capital earlier on Monday, but dispersed peacefully, quelling fears of bloodshed.

"Of course, there is still a chance for Gus Dur (Wahid) to survive, but it is very very slim," University of Indonesia political analyst Amir Santoso told Reuters.

Newspaper columnist and political analyst Daniel Dhakidae said that Wahid could still strike a political deal, but was more likely headed for a fall.

"In the end, I believe there is going to be an impeachment session," he said.

WAHID LISTENS TO MUSIC

The two key parties - Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and the former ruling Golkar - and several minor parties backed the rebuke.

But PDI-P members denied the censure was an attempt to bring Wahid's stormy rule to an early end.

As parliament debated his fate through the day, the 60-year-old Wahid relaxed at the presidential palace listening to his favourite classical music, the official Antara news agency said.

Wahid will have a month to appease his critics and reply to the second reprimand before his enemies can push for impeachment in the top legislature, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), a process that itself could take around two months.

But Wahid's task appears too great, especially since the Muslim cleric has shown little inclination to delve into serious compromises such as extensive power sharing with Megawati that might save his political skin.

"If he can fix his way of governing, if he could mend the economy, if he could stabilise the nation, if he could save the rupiah, what's wrong then with maintaining Gus Dur?" asked senior Golkar legislator Ekky Syahrudin.

All are areas where Wahid has failed to make any progress since his surprise election win in October, 1999.

Indonesia's battered financial markets edged higher on the lack of violence on Monday, but foreign investors still braving the country fret about the potential for events to unravel.

Indeed, Wahid's best chance of survival, analysts say, is the threat of violence by his fanatical supporters - some of whom have vowed to die for him.

"Pasaruan is prepared to shed blood for Gus Dur. Pasaruan is ready to die for Gus Dur," Sumardi, a rice farmer from the East Javanese town, earlier told Reuters.

WAHID SAYS INDONESIA TOUGH TO GOVERN

Wahid won the country's first contested presidential election but was selected by the MPR rather than by a popular vote.

It means he has little grassroots support outside his political stronghold of East Java, which accounts for just 16 percent of the world's fourth most populous nation.

Wahid has accused parliament - which he once likened to a kindergarten - of skirting the constitution in a bid to oust him and saying he inherited a shabby economy and communal divisions which no leader could fix.

The censure was over the so-called Buloggate and Bruneigate scandals. The first involves the theft of $4.1 million from the state commodities regulator, Bulog, by people claiming to be acting on Wahid's behalf, including his masseur.

The other involves Wahid's acceptance, outside government channels, of a $2 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei for aid for troubled Aceh province. A parliament commission found he probably had a role in one and gave false testimony in the other.

The key to Wahid's fate is Megawati, who he slipped past to win the presidency and who has yet to declare if she wants to snatch power now or wait for his troubled term to end in 2004.

Privately, the hugely popular Megawati is said to be highly critical of Wahid and tired of his eccentric ways.

But analysts say her dilemma is that if she takes over now she will inherit a poisoned chalice that could easily destroy her and her party's chances in the 2004 elections. But if she waits, she risks allowing the country to tumble deeper into crisis.

Either way, analysts say she is determined not to be seen to push Wahid from office without clear constitutional grounds.


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