Indonesia moved closer to a showdown between President Abdurrahman Wahid and the nation's top legislature on Monday as support for an impeachment hearing grew and his main rival made a veiled attack on his leadership.
Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Wahid's estranged deputy and the person who will automatically replace him should he be impeached, outlined her vision of the way the country should be run in a speech to a military think-tank.
Megawati did not name Wahid but said the world's fourth most populous nation must move on from being an authoritarian state in which power is the goal to one that emphasised democracy and put the welfare of the country's 210 million people first.
"In this new vision, the benchmark of the success of a leader is no longer measured by how big the power is he has gathered but on how his power can benefit the people," she said.
"The base of his legitimacy is not linked to that person or his own power, but on the people's acceptance of that person and on the performance in implementing what has been mandated," she added, according to a copy of the speech obtained by Reuters.
Megawati, sticking to her usual obliqueness, did not mention the physically disabled Wahid by name, but said Indonesia would become the "sickest man" in Asia" if it could not solve its woes.
Parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung, quoted by the official Antara news agency, meanwhile said a majority of its factions would demand an impeachment hearing when they meet next week.
A senior official from Megawati's party, quoted by the leading Tempo newsweekly, said she would not block a special session of the supreme People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).
"It is very clear that Ibu (mother) Mega is not keen on the special session," party secretary-general Sutjipto said in an interview published on Monday.
"But if it certainly cannot be avoided and if the process is constitutional, then what else," he quoted her as saying.
ONCE CLOSE FRIENDS
Wahid and Megawati, daughter of Indonesia's independence president Sukarno, were once close friends.
In growing signs of a rift, Wahid skipped a Sunday cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis. Megawati in turn refused to attend.
Megawati has been typically silent about her own ambitions but the military has been increasingly siding with her as the crisis deepens 19 turbulent months into Wahid's five-year term.
Top generals at the weekend distanced themselves from rumours Indonesia's first democraticlly elected leader might declare a state of emergency and dissolve parliament to impeachment after the House twice censured him over two graft scandals.
Army chief General Endriartono Sutarto, in an interview with Tempo, said the military would not help Wahid if he declared a state of emergency or dissolved parliament.
"If he insists on this, we will no longer help him," Tempo quoted him saying. "What I understand is he wants a special MPR session stopped. If this cannot be stopped with appeals, there will be other efforts, let's say using force, by dissolving or freezing parliament."
A spokesman for Wahid has denied the ailing and nearly blind president would take such drastic action as declaring a state of emergency, but confirmed he had discussed the idea.
Antara quoted Tandjung as saying such speculation was dragging the Muslim cleric ever closer to an impeachment hearing by the MPR, due to hold its normal annual session in August.
"Until today, we don't see any signs of improvement in the performance of the government, nor is there any in the attitude of Gus Dur to the second censure," Tandjung said during a visit to West Java province on Sunday, using Wahid's nickname.
"Moreover, what exists are declarations by Gus Dur which have made the factions in parliament even keener to proceed and recommend a special MPR session."
The parliamentary factions are due to meet on May 30.
Tandjung said Wahid must find a solution within days that could be accepted by all political parties to avoid the special session. Analysts have said that possibility was looking more remote as Wahid had rejected any compromises put forward.
Many Indonesians fear Wahid's removal could trigger widespread violence from his fanatical followers.
The ongoing crisis is weighing financial markets down. The rupiah and the stock market have fallen dramatically this year.