Fri, Feb 02, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Lawmakers cause uproar as Wahid graft report passes

GROWING INSTABILITYThe Indonesian president could soon be facing impeachment after parliament voted by 393-4 to censure him

REUTERS , JAKARTA

Indonesia's parliament yesterday endorsed a report which found that President Abdurrahman Wahid had acted improperly in two graft scandals, opening the way for possible impeachment.

Wahid's party stormed out during the 393-4 vote, drawing jeers and shouts from other legislators.

The move comes amid mounting concern over Wahid's erratic 15-month rule which has largely failed to pull Indonesia out of years of political and economic mess and many now question whether he can hang on to power until his term ends in 2004.

Despite the seriousness of a censure -- it could pave the way for impeachment proceedings -- Wahid is unlikely to be forced out just yet due to the lack of a credible alternative, the long and complicated impeachment process and the risk of bloodshed.

Parliament's speaker, his deputies and party chiefs are now meeting to draft options on what action should be taken against Wahid. The choices will later be put to the House.

During the heated debate, several parties controlling a firm majority of the chamber's 500 seats demanded parliament formally reprimand Wahid for lying and abusing his power.

A minister said Wahid still had the support of the Cabinet.

"Certainly the Cabinet supports him," Research and Technology Minister A.S. Hikam said after a Cabinet meeting attended by Wahid and Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Wahid says he has Megawati's crucial support, although her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), the country's largest party, joined the censure push.

Outside the sprawling parliamentary complex in central Jakarta, more than 15,000 pro and anti-Wahid protesters faced off in driving rain but there no serious clashes reported by late afternoon.

More than 5,000 anti-Wahid students marched from parliament to the presidential palace, where they chanted for Wahid to quit.

There were similar rallies in other cities, with minor scuffles between pro and anti-Wahid groups in Sulawesi.

The mounting pressure on Wahid could stop him from completing his term which ends in 2004.

"[It] is really damaging ... I don't think the president will stay longer than August," political analyst Andi Mallarangeng said.

Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra warned political tensions could trigger a repeat of the bloody social unrest that toppled former strongman Suharto in 1998.

"It should not be allowed to result in a repeat of the situation of May three years ago," he said before a Cabinet meeting. "The potential for that is there, although we hope it doesn't happen."

PDI-P and the former ruling Golkar party, the second largest, made no mention of a special session of the top legislative body -- which has the power to impeach Wahid.

But the third biggest, the pro-Islamic United Development Party (PPP) and a minor party did urge such a meeting.

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