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Saturday, 21 July, 2001, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Indonesia's political turmoil
President Abdurrahman Wahid
The upper house believes Wahid is ineffectual
By regional analyst Nicholas Nugent

Abdurrahman Wahid was a compromise candidate for president when he was elected to the post in October 1999.

His National Awakening Party (PKB) had captured only 51 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament.

Many saw his nomination by parliament's power brokers as an attempt to block the election of Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was the largest parliamentary party with 153 seats. She had to settle for the post of vice-president.

Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati: President in waiting?
Now Megawati, daughter of Indonesia's populist founding leader Sukarno, has become president.

So how did relations between the Muslim leader president and the parliament (MPR) sink to such a low point?

The formal reason is two charges of corruption against the president, notwithstanding the attorney-general's declaration that there is no evidence to support the charges.

In fact, the MPR wanted to dismiss the president because it believed he was ineffectual. MPR leaders point to his failure to tackle separatist unrest and the country's economic problems, and what they have described as his "erratic" leadership style.

The MPR's chosen method of impeachment - since no procedure exists under the constitution - was to dismiss him by rejecting the accountability statement they require him to make.

The president says he was not obliged to make the statement every year. He counter charges that the MPR over-reached its authority by trying to hold him, the nation's chief executive, to account.

Amien Rais
Rais: Leading impeachment demands
Some analysts are inclined to see this power struggle as left over business from the overthrow in 1998 of long-term dictator Suharto, who had used parliament as a rubber stamp. In return, it never questioned his authority.

What changed things was the country's first democratic elections in four decades, held in June 1999, which in theory made elected parliamentarians accountable to the people.

The subsequent presidential elections should then have made the president accountable to the upper house of parliament that elected him.

Critics of the procedure believe the constitution should have been amended after Suharto's fall to clarify the lines of accountability between the executive and legislature, and to reduce the previously untrammelled power of the president.

Another analysis suggests that, after being elected, Wahid failed to return the favour by offering key roles to members of the parties that had helped to elect him.

Political patronage, sometimes described as cronyism, is a strong tradition in Indonesian politics.

Mr Wahid fired key figures and brought in his own associates to stamp his personal mark on government.

The fact that his government can point to few major achievements led to demands that he should have built a more representative cabinet, and delegate executive power to his deputy, Megawati.

Traditionalists v modernists

Yet another analysis sees the political struggle in terms of Islam, the religion of the majority of Indonesians.

Wahid, who formerly led the Nahdlatul Ulama, a mass Islamic movement, represents the traditionalists, while Amien Rais who - as MPR chairman - led impeachment demands, is a prominent modernist who leads the Muhammadiyah movement.

According to this theory, the modernists are now in the ascendant after the traditionalists failed to deliver on their promises.

The political crisis is probably a result of all these factors - constitutional confusion as to where ultimate power resides, a failure to reward political favours by sharing power and an inter-Islamic struggle.

Its outcome will have an important impact on how Indonesia is governed in future.

The BBC's Richard Galpin
"He could now be voted out of office within days"
President Wahid,
highlights his support within the country
See also:

21 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Parliament moves to topple Wahid
20 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid appoints new police chief
17 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Jakarta police mount show of strength
16 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid faces early impeachment
13 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Armed police defy Wahid
12 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Police feud symbolic of chaos
31 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Indonesia's power vacuum
30 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Testing Indonesia's democracy
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