Fri, 17 Nov 2000

Democracy getting complicated

President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid is dubbed the most democratically elected head of state. Officially at least, when he first assumed office, he was the outspoken champion of equal rights for all political parties and religious groupings as well. He was the most acceptable candidate for the presidency although he only collected about 11 percent of the votes. As a cleric, he appears to be most tolerant.

After about a year in power, the most democratically elected president, has become the most ridiculed person in the new reform era. The call for his resignation is becoming louder every day, except from his supporters. Presently, the political situation has become more confusing and the democratic exercises have become more complicated at that, against the background of slowly moving economic recovery efforts.

A group of legislators initiated an extraparliamentary consultation of the most urgent national problems, ending up with a resolution calling on Gus Dur to step down as the best remedy for all national ailments. Student demonstrations in support of the call seems to have increased these days.

The President's supporters have called the consultations, made outside the official corridors of the House of Representatives and the People's Consultative Assembly and organized by Kwik Kian Gie who is a member of the Assembly, unconstitutional. The President himself, while refusing to budge at the beginning, has now agreed to step down if forced through constitutional means. Why do people ignore the progress he has made?

The most conspicuous weakness of the President's management of the state affairs has been his lack of a sense of priority. When people were struck by earthquakes, he did not cancel his overseas trips, which he has indulged in too often. He seems oblivious of uprisings in a number of provinces demanding self-rule.

People are now speaking of replacing the President with the Vice President as a means of solving the national crises. Surely, Gus Dur is not fit to govern judging from his controversial remarks and his failure to bring Soeharto and the members of the former first family to justice. Many have accused him of the same practices of corruption, collusion and nepotism as his predecessors. He has become an authoritarian.

Independent observers believe that Gus Dur is not a man who would be willing to surrender to pressure. The nation is waiting for the moment when the situation becomes so untenable that he decides to give up power on his own volition. Only his fanatic followers would not accept that without displaying resistance which may lead to violence.

At present an atmosphere of deadlock and immobility prevails politically, economically and constitutionally at the top level of the nation's leadership. Democracy instead of getting easier to handle, has become more complicated.

Given these state of affairs, Kwik Kian Gie has the moral obligation to put democracy on the right track unless his "torrent" of opinions make things worse and not better.