Isolated Wahid calls in wayward military

JAKARTA, Reuters

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid summoned military brass to his palace on Wednesday for a third meeting in two days as he struggled to bring his wayward generals to heel a week before a crucial vote on his future.

The military has grown increasingly critical of Wahid and shifted behind popular Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the fight for control of the world’s fourth most populous country.

Parliament meets next Wednesday against an expected backdrop of mass rallies and possible street violence to consider urging a special impeachment session of the supreme People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

At his latest meeting with the military, just hours after seeing the men at a regular breakfast gathering, Wahid denied widespread rumors that he was about to sack military commander Admiral Widodo and other senior officers.

“There is no plan to replace the chiefs…because this will trigger restlessness in the TNI (military),” chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters afterwards.

Wahid summoned Widodo to the palace on Tuesday after Widodo defended officers who had warned Wahid they would not support any declaration of a state of emergency for him to retain power just 19 chaotic months into his five-year term.

Presidential aides say Wahid has previously discussed declaring an emergency, but had ruled out such drastic action.

Little has filtered out from any of the meetings, but some legislators say the constant calling in of military leaders is stoking instability and tension.

“The way the government runs its system is not healthy,” said one. “I fear this will worsen the current situation and trigger unrest in society.”

The rumor of a military reshuffle is just one of scores daily sweeping the capital as the country watches to see if Wahid can survive, something analysts believe is ever more unlikely.

Megawati, who succeeds Wahid if he falls, and the leaders of parliament and the MPR say an impeachment hearing over two graft scandals — which have triggered two parliamentary censures — is virtually unstoppable.

The International Crisis Group think-tank said the lingering crisis, which has distracted the government and parliament from their real business since last year, was endangering Indonesia’s transition to democracy after 30 years of autocratic, army-backed rule under former President Suharto.

“The view that democracy has only brought disorder and chaos is growing stronger while the number looking back with favor on the enforced order of the Suharto era seems to be growing,” the Brussels-based group said in its latest Indonesia report, obtained on Wednesday.

The Attorney General’s office investigations into the scandals are underway, but Deputy Attorney-General for special crimes Bachtiar Fahri Nasution on Wednesday repeated earlier comment that no evidence of wrongdoing by Wahid had been found so far.

“But do not say there are indications of…(closing the cases),” he told reporters. He said he hoped the investigations could be wound up by next Wednesday’s parliamentary debate.

However, analysts say even dropping the investigations would do little to stop the growing push for the special MPR session.

“Public opinion has been built up to the extent that Wahid must go,” University of Indonesia analyst Amir Santoso told Reuters. “Problems between the parliament and Gus Dur (Wahid) go beyond the scandals — it’s more about mismanagement.”

But analysts say it is still possible the assembly will be content with rapping Wahid over the knuckles.

Wahid has so far rebuffed any political compromise, such as sharing more power with Megawati, who in her own oblique way has turned against her long-time friend.