Mon, 15 May 2000

Indonesia should have impeachment institution

JAKARTA (JP): Despite its presidential system, Indonesia could in the future grant the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) the right to impeach the president if people no longer trust in his or her government, says a noted Muslim scholar.

"We should promote the mechanism of impeachment in anticipation of a force majeure in which the president is allegedly involved in a major scandal," Nurcholish Madjid, rector of the Paramadina Islamic College, told a seminar held by Pelita daily here on Saturday.

The mechanism, he said, does not go against the Constitution which stipulates that the president serve for five years and be dismissed only if he or she is considered no longer able to lead the nation for permanent constraints.

Indonesia's first two presidents stepped down while in power without precise impeachment procedures. Founding President Sukarno was dethroned after his accountability speech was rejected by the Assembly in 1967 and his successor Soeharto resigned following massive student demonstrations against him and widespread rioting in 1998.

Nurcholish said it was not necessary now to propose a no- confidence move against President Abdurrahman Wahid's government since he has only seven months of tenure.

"The present government should be given an opportunity to carry out its main duty of defusing the multidimension crisis and completing the reform agenda," he said.

Demands have mounted for the Assembly to hold a special session in August to review Abdurrahman's performance. He has been criticized for his controversial statements, especially his intention to lift the ban on communists.

Nurcholish suggested that the nation take full advantage of the ongoing five-year administration of Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, to lay a platform toward democracy, constitutional obedience and law enforcement.

"We will stumble in the same way in the next episodes of government. The same thing will be repeated and it is annoying," he said, adding that the intention to replace the president should not be triggered by disappointment or personal resentment.

Senior politician and former foreign minister Roeslan Abdulgani agreed with Nurcholish, saying changing the president would not necessarily help Indonesia emerge from the crisis.

"It's possible to replace Gus Dur with a better person, but I don't think it is the case. Giving Gus Dur the opportunity to complete his tenure while persistently providing him with warnings and criticism is the best way for the good of the nation," Roeslan said.

Nurcholish acknowledged that Abdurrahman appeared to have difficulty listening to other people, but suggested that the President take all criticism positively. "The warnings will save him," he said.


Nurcholish said allegations of corruption involving Abdurrahman's family and close associates should be investigated and public discussions allowed.

"It is quite ironic if the government which is entrusted to fight corruption is involved in graft. Those who are allegedly involved should prove their innocence in court," he said.

He said Gus Dur's government would certainly collapse if he takes a deaf ear to the allegations of corruption.

Print media have given prominent coverage recently to allegations of corruption, collusion and practice of nepotism involving people close to Abdurrahman.

The President has denied the reports, reprimanded Jawa Pos daily for taking part in "a conspiracy to topple and discredit the government" and considered filing a lawsuit against Tempo magazine for their coverage of the alleged high-profile graft.

A group of 12 Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) senior clerics asked Abdurrahman on Friday to stay cool and refrain from taking extreme action for revenge. NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi, who accompanied the respected clerics, said the corruption report had been exaggerated because "the President and his family have lived simply".

Realizing that the President alone will not be able to resolve the country's crisis, NU plans to hold a meeting between the country's top figures, including MPR speaker Amien Rais, House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung, and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

"Insya Allah, we will invite them to discuss the country's situation and the ways to resolve our national problems," said Hasyim. (prb/rms)