- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Lawmakers voted last night for a special parliamentary session that will have the power to impeach President Abdurrahman Wahid, as security forces faced thousands of angry supporters of the nearly blind Muslim cleric.

The session, expected within two months, will force Mr. Wahid to account for his actions before the country´s highest legislative body, the People´s Consultative Assembly. If his accounting is rejected and no political compromise is reached, legislators can impeach him by revoking his mandate, which expires in 2004.

While lawmakers were voting, security forces confronted angry Wahid supporters outside the legislature. About 6,000 Wahid supporters, many carrying sticks and knives, rallied at the gates of the heavily guarded legislature and demanded it be disbanded. Violence also continued in Mr. Wahid´s stronghold of East Java province.

The House confirmed its call for a special assembly session with 365 legislators voting in favor, four opposed, and 38 from the nonelected military and police faction abstaining. Mr. Wahid´s National Awakening Party walked out and did not vote.

Mr. Wahid said he has "no intention of quitting" or invoking earlier threats to declare a state or emergency and dissolve parliament, his spokesman said. He has long challenged the right of lawmakers to move against him and he did not attend yesterday´s parliamentary session. Instead, he opened a meeting of leaders from the G-15 group of developing nations at a nearby convention center.

In a letter read to parliament on his behalf, Wahid rejected the legislature´s earlier reprimands, saying they "failed to specify what pledge of office" he violated, the Associated Press reported.

A source close to Mr. Wahid earlier said a vote for a special session would be "extremely bad for us, psychologically for our supporters" and implied that Mr. Wahid´s followers would be difficult to control.

"It does create uncertainty in the region," said Samuel Porteous, managing director of Kroll Associates Asia in Hong Kong, a firm which conducts risk assessment. "I don´t know whether Indonesia´s hit bottom yet as far as political instability goes."

The 60-year-old moderate Muslim was elected by a coalition of assembly members 19 months ago after Indonesia´s first free general elections in decades. Many initially saw Mr. Wahid as a voice for tolerance and democratic reform, but much of his support has evaporated. Since Feb. 1, the House has issued two memorandums of censure against the president urging him to improve his performance.

The first censure focused on his alleged involvement in financial irregularities totaling $6 million. Indonesia´s attorney general on Monday formally cleared Mr. Wahid of any wrongdoing, but that decision did not deter House members.

With a second memorandum on April 30 they had already broadened their complaints against Mr. Wahid to include dissatisfaction with his handling of Indonesia´s economic crisis and threats to the nation´s unity.

"Truly, there´s already been enough time for President Abdurrahman Wahid to carry out those improvements," said Sophan Sophian, of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, the largest faction in the 500-member House.


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