Thu, 26 Oct 2000

It's Gus Dur's call

More and more leading reformist figures who were among the most ardent supporters of President Abdurrahman Wahid are now distancing themselves from the man whom they considered a year ago as the nation's best hope to lead Indonesia on the reform path and out of the present crisis. Underpinning this trend is the growing disillusionment at the lack of progress -- lack of real reforms -- in Indonesia under the leadership of Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, in the last 12 months.

Economist Sjahrir on Monday joined the ranks of respected public figures like Muslim scholar Nurchoslish Madjid who have gone public in expressing their disappointment at the President's leadership. But Sjahrir has probably gone the furthest, saying that Gus Dur should immediately resign because he has failed to implement the various reform programs mandated by the people. Sjahrir has even pronounced the Indonesian reform process dead at a very young age, thanks to President Abdurrahman.

While many people share the concerns Sjahrir raised about the President's first year in office, they do not necessarily support his conclusion. But his demand for resignation nevertheless is food for thought for all of us concerned with the nation, and especially for the President himself.

Like Sjahrir, many people are disillusioned at the lack of progress in strengthening the rule of law, the bedrock of a healthy democracy. Many cases of human rights abuses, particularly the fatal shooting of several university students leading the reform struggle in 1998, have not been resolved in court and there are no signs they will ever be any time soon.

Many people share Sjahrir's fears that rather than eradicating corruption, collusion and nepotism as mandated by the people, the President has allowed, tolerated and probably even encouraged these practices around the presidential palace. The President's decision to delay the legal process against three tycoons on account of their supposedly huge contribution to Indonesia's export revenue, certainly smacks of a grand collusion.

Granted that President Abdurrahman faces an almost impossible task in taking Indonesia down the reform path and out of the present crisis. Most of the problems facing him are the legacy of more than three decades of misrule and mismanagement. But in the eyes of many of his critics, not only has he failed to address these problems to start with, he has also created or piled new problems unnecessarily. Gus Dur's performance, or lack of it, in the last 12 months, is enough reason for many of those in the civil society movement to raise doubts of his reform credentials.

Many people had sincerely believed that Gus Dur, given his vision and his commitment to democracy and human rights, could have made a lot of difference in resolving many of the country's problems. There were many occasions when his leadership, statesmanship and wisdom were called for in addressing these problems, but none were forthcoming.

Instead of leading the reform campaign as he should be, Gus Dur is looking more and more like he is campaigning for himself and for his National Awakening Party (PKB) for the 2004 general election. To many people, particularly his friends in the reform movement, Gus Dur has shed his image as a person who fights for the nation's interests, for a politician who fights for his personal or narrow group's interests. It is no wonder that many are disillusioned.

Whether or not Gus Dur should resign is not really for Sjahrir or the reform movement to decide, especially now that we have all professed to adhere to democratic principles, which means playing by the rules. Both Amien Rais and Akbar Tandjung, as leaders of the People's Consultative Assembly and House of Representatives respectively, in the meantime have made it clear they have no intention to initiate any impeachment process, citing the dangers of setting an unhealthy precedent of unseating a president before his five-year term in office is up.

That leaves the matter of his presidency, and therefore the future of the reform itself and of the nation, entirely in the hands of Abdurrahman Wahid. But while he may claim to have constitutional legitimacy, statements from respected figures like Nurcholish and Sjahrir show that he is fast losing his popular legitimacy. That will make governing even more difficult unless he resorts to authoritarian methods.

Whether or not Gus Dur continues to rule at this stage is very much his own decision. What is clear is that the nation cannot afford to remain at a standstill for very much longer. But whatever decision he comes to, it should put the interest of the nation first and foremost before his own personal ambitions. Since the ball is very much in his court, he should take the initiative to try to break the nation from the present of state of stalemate, before a solution is imposed upon him.