by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondet
July 23, 2001
IN PEACEFUL SHIFT, INDONESIA GETS A NEW PRESIDENT
JAKARTA, July 23, 2001 -- In a fast-moving and dramatic political struggle 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 People's Consultative Assembly hereby dismisses Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid as the president 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 speaker 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 parties to accept this decision, with an open heart. It is my belief that there 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 and a kiss.
Around 1,000 spectators who witnessed the proceeding in the parliament building applauded, joining 599 assembly members who all voted against Wahid. But two of the assembly's 12 factions decided to boycott the session. The 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 at 1:10 a.m., when Wahid declared a state of emergency from the Merdeka presidential palace in Jakarta. Accompanied by his advisors and human rights activists, 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 preserve the integrity of this country. Twin governments will create a tremendous turmoil in our country," said Wahid, acknowledging that many opposition leaders, including Amien Rais, were prepared to install Megawati of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle as a new president in a Saturday morning meeting.
The decision obviously stunned many television viewers whose midnight movies 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 announced schedule and convene at 8 a.m.
Another meeting took place at Megawati's residence. A top aide to Wahid, coordinating minister of security affairs, 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 started convening at 8 a.m.
Meanwhile more than 80 tanks and armored cars were stationed in a park in front of the Merdeka palace. More than 12 hours earlier more than 2,000 soldiers took part in a roll call at the park. The show of force was apparently meant to pressure Wahid not to dismiss armed forces commander Admiral S. Widodo.
In a bid to impose the emergency, Wahid wanted to dismiss Widodo, who opposed the emergency plan, and to install Lt. Gen. Johnny Lumintang. Widodo's officers, however, reacted against Wahid and mobilized the soldiers and the 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 issued the decree and asked military commanders to obey his instructions as "the sitting president and the military supreme commander." Widodo only turned up Monday afternoon in a press conference after the assembly had ended its proceedings, saying that the military is distancing itself from day-to-day politics.
In a statement from Washington, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said "The United States is deeply concerned with President Wahid's declaration of a state of emergency and his intention to suspend the democratically-elected parliament."
"This is a critical juncture in Indonesia's democratic political development. We call upon all parties, including the military, police and the people of Indonesia, to exercise restraint, avoid incitements to violence and allow for a peaceful, democratic and constitutional process to unfold."
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 decision to disband the assembly because it was illegal.
Indonesians Monday were glued to live television and radio broadcasts of the nation's first-ever 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 other legislators, were busy using the media to deliver their messages. On Saturday, 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-hours-a-day coverage of the session.
Wahid is Indonesia's first democratically elected president. He won his presidency in October 1999. He was known as a human rights activist and religious tolerance advocate during the repressive period of General Suharto.
But his erratic management angered his opponents, who control the majority in parliament.
Wahid did not appear on television on Monday, although his spokesman said Wahid was laughing and joking through lunch.
Wahid has insisted that he will not leave the palace, believing that he has done nothing wrong.After the transition of power, there seemed to be no urgency about 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.