IN PEACEFUL SHIFT, INDONESIA GETS A NEW PRESIDENT
by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondet
JAKARTA, July 23, 2001 -- In a fast moving and dramatic political strugg= le that involved many political parties, the military, the police, and the = media, Indonesia's national assembly fired President Abdurrahman Wahid and = today installed his deputy Megawati Sukarnoputri as president. "The Peopl= e's Consultative Assembly hereby dismisses Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid as the pre= sident of the Republic of Indonesia prior to the end of his term as he has = been proven breaching the guidelines of the state," said Amien Rais, the sp= eaker of the assembly, on Monday afternoon. Megawati made a short speech = after the swearing-in ceremony, "To start this job, I am calling on all par= ties to accept this decision, with an open heart. It is my belief that ther= e is no single big group that can lead the country out of the crisis. So I = expect cooperation from all parties."
Her husband, businessman-cum-politician, Taufik Kiemas, gave her a hug a= nd a kiss.
Around 1,000 spectators who witnessed the proceeding in the parliament b= uilding applauded, joining 599 assembly members who all voted against Wahid= . But two of the assembly's 12 factions decided to boycott the session. T= he two parties include Wahid's Nation Awakening Party and a small Christian= -based party.
The move to unseat Wahid began dramatically in the wee hours of Monday a= t 1:10 a.m., when Wahid declared a state of emergency from the Merdeka pres= idential palace in Jakarta. Accompanied by his advisors and human rights ac= tivists, Wahid ordered the security forces to break up both the parliament = and the assembly, to freeze former president Suharto's Golkar party and to = prepare a snap election within the next one-year.
"My pledge is to preser= ve the integrity of this country. Twin governments will create a tremendous= turmoil in our country," said Wahid, acknowledging that many opposition le= aders, including Amien Rais, were prepared to install Megawati of the Indon= esian Democratic Party of Struggle as a new president in a Saturday morning= meeting.
The decision obviously stunned many television viewers whose midnight mo= vies were interrupted by Wahid's press conference.
Amien Rais, however, managed to consolidate opposition parties and held = a meeting just an hour after the issuance of the decree. Amien immediately = talked to the press, saying that the top assembly would stick to its announ= ced schedule and convene at 8 a.m.
Another meeting took place at Megawati= 's residence. A top aide to Wahid, coordinating minister of security affair= s, Agum Gumelar, who opposed the decree until the very last minute, came to= Megawati's residence and reported the development. Megawati asked Gumelar = to keep his position to secure the session.
The main denominator of this conflict, both the military and the police,= however, produced neither a statement nor a move until the assembly starte= d convening at 8 a.m.
Meanwhile more than 80 tanks and armored cars were stationed in a park i= n front of the Merdeka palace. More than 12 hours earlier more than 2,000 s= oldiers took part in a roll call at the park. The show of force wasapparent= ly meant to pressure Wahid not to dismiss armed forces commanderAdmiral S. = Widodo.
In a bid to impose the emergency, Wahid wanted to dismiss Widodo, whoopp= osed the emergency plan, and to install Lt. Gen. Johnny Lumintang. Widodo's= officers, however, reacted against Wahid and mobilized the soldiers and th= e tanks in front of the palace. But Lumintang, a senior army officer, also = refused the appointment, making Wahid's situation more difficult.
Saying he believed he had to go ahead with his plan, Wahid issuedthe de= cree and asked military commanders to obey his instructions as "the sitting= president and the military supreme commander."
Widodo only turned up Mon= day afternoon in a press conference after the assembly had ended its procee= dings, saying that the military is distancing itself from day-to-day politi= cs.
In a statement from Washington, United States Secretary of State Colin P= owell said "The United States is deeply concerned with President Wahid's de= claration of a state of emergency and his intention to suspend the democrat= ically-elected parliament."
"This is a critical juncture in Indonesia's democratic politicaldevelopm= ent. We call upon all parties, including the military, police andthe people= of Indonesia, to exercise restraint, avoid incitements toviolence and allo= w for a peaceful, democratic and constitutional process tounfold."
Only the national assembly, a nearly 700-member body largely made up of = 500 legislators, has the power to appoint and fire presidents. Indonesia's = Supreme Court also issued a statement Monday morning, annulling Wahid's dec= ision to disband the assembly because it was illegal.
Indonesians Monday = were glued to live television and radio broadcasts of the nation's first-ev= er impeachment process as Wahid's supporters began arriving in front of the= palace in an obvious bid to protect Wahid. Jakarta's busy street life went= on as normal. Most shops opened, although many Jakartans preferred to skip= their work day to watch the impeachment hearings.
The politicians, from Amien to Wahid, from Megawati to the otherlegislat= ors, were busy using the media to deliver their messages. OnSaturday, Amien= even delayed the assembly proceeding to monitor Wahid's press conference. = Political commentators also used the media to offer blow-by-blow commentary= , mostly partisan in nature, during the 24-hour-a-daycoverage of the sessio= n.
Wahid is Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He won his = presidency in October 1999. He was known as a human rights activist and rel= igious tolerance advocate during the repressive period of GeneralSuharto.
But his erratic management angered his opponents, who control the major= ity in parliament.
Wahid did not appear on television on Monday, although= his spokesman said Wahid was laughing and joking through lunch.
Wahid h= as insisted that he will not leave the palace, believing that he has done n= othing wrong.After the transition of power, there seemed to be no urgency a= bout removing him from the residence.
Andreas Harsono has covered Indonesia for The American Reporter since 19= 96, beginning with the military plot to overthrow Megawati as leader of her= party in 1996. For his exceptional reporting, Andreas Harsono was named a= Neiman International Fellow at Harvard University in 1999.