- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia Abdurrahman Wahid has a lot of explaining to do.

Nine months after legislators elected him Indonesia's president amid hopes for economic and political reform, the same legislators say he has failed.

The currency has plunged in value, sectarian and criminal violence threatens to tear the country apart, and Mr. Wahid is accused of the same authoritarianism he professes to oppose.

In a speech expected to be delivered today at the opening of the annual People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) session, Mr. Wahid will report on his first crisis-filled months in power.

Despite speculation the 700-member assembly could try to oust Mr. Wahid, that seems unlikely now, although his longer-term future remains in doubt.

The 59-year-old president met Tuesday with the leaders of major political parties in a show of unity aimed at easing political tension ahead of the two-week MPR session. After the meeting, Mr. Wahid said party leaders agreed the MPR would not become a forum to topple his administration.

"Now there's no effort to replace the president but to correct him … so he can improve his errors," said Lukas Karl Degey, who chairs the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) faction in the House of Representatives.

The PDIP's 153-member faction is the largest in the House of 500 parliamentarians who were chosen last year in Indonesia's first free election in decades.

In the MPR, Indonesia's highest legislative body, House members sit with appointed military and police representatives, along with politicians from the various regions in this archipelago nation of 210 million people.

Despite the recent public show of unity by party leaders, diplomatic sources say senior party officials have been meeting regularly to discuss ways of removing Mr. Wahid.

"The knives are out," one source said, adding that the maneuvers are believed to have the backing of Mr. Wahid's vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads the PDIP.

Any move to topple him through a special legislative session likely would take several more months, one source said, noting that legal measures that theoretically could lead to Mr. Wahid's ouster are not yet in place.

But politicians already are talking about finding an alternate role for Mr. Wahid.

"The solution is this: OK, he remains head of state as president, [but] he surrenders the Cabinet to Megawati," said Syamsul Mu'arif, chairman of the Golkar party's House faction. With 120 members, it is the second-largest party group.

"We only desire to improve the situation," Mr. Mu'arif said.

While Mr. Mu'arif and other party leaders complain about Mr. Wahid's failures, ordinary Indonesians aren't as quick to criticize the frail and virtually blind former Muslim cleric. They appear more ready to blame former President Suharto's legacy for many of Indonesia's problems, particularly the violence that has laid waste to much of the country.

But Mr. Degey, the PDIP legislator, said the president's popularity won't stop legislators from demanding explanations about the scandals and failures of his administration.

These include:

• The diversion of $4 million from the State Logistics Agency in a scam linked to the president's masseur.

• Mr. Wahid's acceptance of $2 million donated by the Sultan of Brunei.

• The president's refusal to explain the firing of two economic ministers. The firings bring to five the number of ministers dismissed by the president in half a year.

• Economic problems including a currency that had lost almost 50 percent of its value in recent weeks before recovering somewhat.

• Bombings, mass murders and the demolition of entire villages in various parts of the country.

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