The deadline is set for the impeachment of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Initiated by the DPR ‘lower house’ of the Indonesian Parliament, the procedure will take place on August 1, 2oo1 in the nation’s highest legislative body, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). Effectively a no-confidence motion, it will proceed unless Wahid derails or diverts the inevitable in the intervening two months. A compromise with Vice-President Megawati now seems out of the question.
Pro-Wahid demonstrations have already led to violence, disappearances and one person shot dead in the street by police. The supporters of Wahid (more familiarly known as Gus Dur) are concentrated in East Java, the home-territory of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This is the largest Muslim organisation in the world, now with a reported 4o million followers mainly in rural areas.
Gus Dur was an NU leader for more than 15 years, until he was elected as President in october 1999. In opposition to NU is Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim group with about 25 million followers, predominantly in Java’s urban areas. The current MPR Speaker, Amien Rais, who is one of Wahid’s strongest critics, formerly led Muhammadiyah.
During the violence and rioting by Wahid’s supporters in several places in Central and East Java, several properties of Muhammadiyah’s were damaged and looted including campuses, schools and even mosques.
The destruction of a Protestant church gave rise to suspicions that army provocateurs also were at work. (Several years ago when army arsonists burned some churches in Jakarta to provoke Muslim-Christian rivalry, Gus Dur instructed NU followers to guard all Christian churches in the region. However, army provocateurs then bypassed the churches in Jakarta and started an outburst at the eastern end of Java, in Situbondo.)
Muslim opposition to the army has not been forgotten. It has seized every opportunity to exacerbate differences between the traditionalists and the modernists, between Gus Dur and Amien Rais.
Now that Wahid is facing impeachment, the army has refashioned its image as law-abiding and shying away from political involvement. In reality, it has been actively undermining Wahid’s proposed reforms that would end the dual-role of the army – one foot in defence with the other in business and politics.
Gus Dur recently reshuffled his cabinet. A number of ministers were removed. However, when he tried to replace the National Police chief, he met resistance. About 8,ooo police and several hundred army troops paraded not far from the presidential palace, implicitly in support of Bimontoro retaining his position.
Far more significant than this, however, but little publicised, was the call by 16 Members of Parliament, led by Akbar Tandjung who is the head of the Golkar Party (formerly linked with Suharto). They demanded that the Indonesian army take power out of the hands of Wahid. With only 16 out of 5oo members joining this group, it was easily passed over, but the nature of the request gives it special significance.
Vice-President Megawati will assume power by constitutional means in August if the impeachment process continues. In the interim, however, there will only be more political uncertainty, and the economic consequences for Indonesia might prove catastrophic. The Indonesian Rupiah has fallen to new lows (Rp11,45o to the US$) and inflation is now 1o.8 per cent. This will deteriorate more when the Government raises fuel prices by an average of 3o per cent and electricity prices by 2o per cent over the next two weeks, in a bid to cap the gaping budget deficit. These increases are the result of IMF demands to end subsidisation.
Thus Megawati will avoid the political backlash if she assumes power later rather than sooner. one of her main priorities is maintaining the unitary state of Indonesia and this coincides with the army perspective. She recently spoke of the need to “muffle” some groups that are demanding to secede from the country. West Papua and Aceh are the two foremost examples. Gus Dur has warned that both will declare independence if he is forced from office.
For this reason, the political decline of Gus Dur since october last year has brought a dramatic increase in the number of troops in West Papua. More than 2o,ooo extra troops have arrived, making a total in excess of 3o,ooo. As well, Sorong on the westerly tip of the province will become a new naval base, and on the island of Biak the Indonesian Air Force intends to upgrade its presence to one of four main air bases in the archipelago. Large radar installations have already been constructed at Biak and Merauke, on the southern coastline near the PNG border. More than six battalions are stationed along the PNG border – between two and three times as many troops as there are in the entire PNG army. There are 7oo troops guarding the Freeport gold and cooper mine.
Making the situation even more explosive is the willingness of some Indonesian army personel to sell weapons to West Papuans.
In the same way that the Australian Government had early warning when tension was rising rapidly in East Timor, only to ignore it, so too is Canberra aware of the precarious situation now in West Papua. Again Canberra is ignoring it.