Indonesia's Embattled Wahid Outmaneuvers Himself
A chronology of the Indonesian president's 19 months in power
JAKARTA, May 30 (AFP) - Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid, who on Wednesday lost the first round of his battle against impeachment, is a liberal democrat who fell victim to the same tactics he used to survive three decades of dictatorship.
The respected 60-year-old Muslim scholar, who has fought parliament for much of his brief 19-month term, has tarnished his own democratic credentials, perhaps fatally, in scrambling to stop the impeachment process.
In the past weeks Wahid has threatened to impose emergency rule, dissolve parliament, and has courted the very politicians he had warned would tear the country apart if they took over.
He has also alienated his Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who stands to replace him and whose support is crucial, saying publicly she would be incapable of ruling alone.
Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (C), accompanied by his daughter Zanubah Chafsyoh (R) and his adjutant (L) arrive at the Jakarta Hilton Convention Center 30 May 2001, to attend the G-15 meeting. The Indonesian parliament has voted to continue a key session which could pave the way towards impeaching President Abdurrahman Wahid.
The Wahid of today is, for most Indonesians, a tragic disappointment and a sad descent from one of the key figures who helped ensure the fall of former dictator Suharto in 1998.
Wahid's last-minute candidacy that led to him becoming the country's first democratically elected president in October 1999 was welcomed then, when he was seen as an acceptable leader who could keep the country united.
But since that time the clinically blind president, facing enormous odds in keeping the reform drive alive and the reformists with him, has been unable to unite even his own allies.
Instead, analysts say, the tactics that served him well in the back seat did not work under the glare of publicity with real power to be wielded.
His endless deal making, playing off one group against another, which had enabled him and his Nahdlatul Ulama Muslim movement to survive the Suharto years has alienated friend and foe alike.
In addition his constant globe-trotting amid dire crises and his penchant for biting remarks, which at first kept the fractious Jakarta elite off balance, has increasingly been labeled fiddling while Rome burns.
Wahid continuously shoots himself in the foot, even his most ardent supporters agree.
With the president's gratuitous insults over the political limitations of his old friend Megawati, he seemed to forget that much of his power rested on Megawati's grass-roots popularity and that her legacy as the daughter of the country's nationalist founding president Sukarno was crucial.
Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) won the 1999 general elections and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.
Wahid's party, by comparison, holds only a handful of seats in the 500-seat house that is now bent on ousting him.
Also waiting in the wings is Suharto's old political party, the Golkar, which polled second in the 1999 elections and which Wahid supporters say has been getting up to its old tricks to frustrate the president.
Wahid's bitter relations with parliament have scuttled many of his reform efforts.
"The people's lives are worsening, the market and donor institutions have lost confidence, the rupiah is losing its value, unemployment is increasing and prices going up," said Golkar MP Evita Asmalda.
Wahid's lauded efforts to cut the old tycoons and Suharto's rapacious children down to size, bring them to court and stem the endemic corruption that still drains government coffers, swiftly unraveled.
Rumors spread of corruption in the presidential palace, fuelled by a national press stung by incidents of intimidation, and parliament seized on Wahid's possible involvement in two financial scandals as a basis to censure him.
His efforts to talk to separatist rebels in the provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya came to nothing. The military have now returned to Aceh and a crackdown is underway in Irian.
The military, which has since Suharto's fall been pushed out of politics, has been able to regain unity under the relentless attacks it had endured.
For the first time, the military has stood up to the president, warning him against declaring a state of emergency that would enable him to dissolve the parliament.