Fri, 22 Sep 2000

Abdurrahman's options

Hardly a day seems to pass these days without President Abdurrahman Wahid getting himself embroiled in one controversy or another with either the House of Representatives (DPR) or the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). The latest spat concerns the rather sudden dismissal, by the President, of the chief of the National Police, Gen. Rusdihardjo, on Monday.

The debate, which in the past days has widened to involve more legislators and observers on both sides of the controversy, is centered mainly on the question of whether the President's action to dismiss the chief of police is or isn't constitutionally valid.

Those who contend that Abdurrahman's action is unconstitutional base their argument on a legislative decree -- MPR Decree No.VI/MPR/2000 to be precise -- which states that the National Police is headed by a chief of police who is appointed and dismissed by the President with the consent of the DPR.

Those who say that the President has acted within his constitutional rights, on the other hand, point to another article in the same decree which states that the whole procedure is to be regulated in a law, which has yet to be drafted and passed. Since at present such a law does not exist, under the prevailing law the President is authorized to act on the matter at his own discretion.

The question is: Which of the two arguments is right?

This is obviously a question for the nation's legislators and experts on constitutional law to answer. The dismal reality, however, is that Indonesians can, under current circumstances, hardly afford the time to publicly debate the issue or wait for the House of Representatives to pass such a law.

As has been pointed out many times before, a series of bloody riots, acts of destruction, willful and fatal shootings of protesters -- ostensibly by rogue members of the military or police -- have in the past few years rocked Jakarta. Not one of those incidents have been brought to a conclusion that was satisfactory to the public. Time and again, the investigators seemed to hit a wall of impunity as soon as the inquiry appeared to come close to implicating certain untouchable elements, especially among the police or military.

Since the bombing at the Attorney General's Office in July, at least five bombing incidents have rocked this city. After the bombs that exploded in front of the Philippine ambassador's residence and at the Malaysian Embassy, another device exploded and wrecked a minibus near the Ministry of Agriculture building in South Jakarta where former president Soeharto was to stand trial. But though shocked at the realization that acts of terror have come to the city, it was only with the latest bombing at the Jakarta Stock Exchange that Jakartans began to take the terrorist threat seriously. Of these bombing incidents too, not one has been cleared up.

In the meantime, violence in Maluku, Aceh and other troubled areas continues. A militia attack in Atambua in West Timor which left three UN aid workers dead and scores of others injured has Indonesia feeling the wrath of the international community.

Given these circumstances, President Abdurrahman's seemingly sudden replacement of Gen. Rusdihardjo can certainly be understood. Obviously, the President must have acted on intelligence information which he regarded reliable, thus warranting a speedy replacement of the National Police chief. Similarly the removal of Gen. Fachrul Razi, the deputy chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI) must be seen in this context.

Admittedly, the confusion over the legality of the President's action is providing yet another negative signal to would-be investors and market players. Clearly the country is at present in no condition to dwell on the controversy. The best solution that can be found under the circumstances would be for the President to consult the DPR at the earliest possible opportunity to have his action validated, and for the DPR to pass the law as required.

Disheartening as the situation already is, the nation has no need for any more controversies that could stall its economic recovery.