Wahid faces early impeachment hearing

JAKARTA, Reuters

Indonesia’s top legislature will hold a special session on Saturday to consider impeaching President Abdurrahman Wahid, setting the stage for a potentially explosive confrontation despite a presidential backdown.

Head of the supreme People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Amien Rais, a one-time Wahid ally turned chief enemy, did not give a timetable, but told reporters on Friday the Muslim cleric would be called to account for his 21-month rule on Monday.

“The leaders of the MPR have decided that tomorrow, God willing, we will have a plenary meeting at 10 in the morning, which logically will proceed to the special (impeachment) session,” Rais said.

The MPR needs a quorum of at least two thirds of its 700 members to hold the hearing and it was not immediately clear if enough members could be gathered on Saturday morning, although many are believed to be in the capital already.

Officials at the presidential palace could not be immediately contacted for comment.

The move stokes fears the political crisis gripping the country could erupt into bloodshed. The world’s fourth most populous nation has never had a peaceful transition of power.

Indonesia’s first democratically-elected leader earlier sought to fend off moves to bring the hearing forward from Aug. 1 by delaying a threat to declare a state of emergency — giving him wide-ranging powers and allowing an early election.

He also gave in to demands not to appoint a new police chief to replace the former commander whose sacking parliament and the MPR bitterly opposed.

But he said he would declare a civil emergency on July 31 if a job-saving compromise could not be thrashed out.

“Up to now, we have not reached a political compromise needed to overcome the political crisis,” Wahid said in a brief statement at 6:00 p.m., when he had originally threatened to declare an emergency. “Therefore, we have to prepare to implement a state of emergency on July 31 at 6:00 p.m. if there is no compromise.” Police on alert

More than 40,000 police and troops have been deployed around the capital. But Jakarta was calm on Friday, with businesses and schools open as usual through the day and no immediate signs of trouble after Rais’ announcement.

There was also no sign of the thousands of fanatical Wahid faithful who have flooded into the city in the past to show their support for the ailing Muslim cleric.

Wahid’s political heartland of East Java, home to millions of fanatical followers — some of whom have vowed to die defending him and have been training in martial arts and magic powers — was also peaceful.

Although Wahid said he still hoped a peace deal could be struck, most analysts and political leaders say a compromise is almost impossible to allow the half-blind Muslim cleric to serve out his five-year term to 2004.

If he falls, he will be replaced by Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), the country’s largest, said on Friday for the first time it would support impeachment.

Wahid can still try to declare a state of emergency and call early elections, but it is unlikely he has enough support to do so. Key army and police generals have already publicly opposed such an order.