Mon, 07 Aug 2000

Setting a good precedent

On the face of it, and despite all the talk about impeachment and security threats, it seems that Indonesians have little to worry about during the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which starts on Monday.

As news reports in a number of publications in the past week have it, thousands of members of Banser, a civilian militia controlled by the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), have "infiltrated" Jakarta and are prepared to act if there is any indication that there is an effort to unseat President Abdurrahman Wahid during the Annual Session.

Abdurrahman, after all, was until his election to the presidency in October last year, a highly revered chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama as well as cofounder of the National Awakening Party (PKB), which has the third largest faction in the Assembly.

The authorities, however, appear to be quite serious in their threat to clamp down on troublemakers during the session, and the police are under orders to shoot troublemakers on the spot. Party militias or any other paramilitary civilian forces are barred from the vicinity of the MPR building in Central Jakarta.

One major threat, indeed, is that certain factions or individual members in the MPR could try to steer the Assembly toward turning the Annual Session into a special session for the purpose of impeaching the President, thereby provoking his supporters.

But to squash some of the tension that this confrontation has produced in the past weeks, leaders of the two largest factions in the Assembly -- those of Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) -- have made it publicly known that their factions have no intention of turning the session into a special session for such a purpose.

A similar statement was issued by the chairman of the National Awakening Party (PAN) and speaker of the MPR, Amien Rais, although cynics may doubt the sincerity of such a statement coming from Amien, who -- rightly or wrongly -- has a reputation for being inconsistent in word and deed.

Besides, the fact that certain members, especially those in the PDI Perjuangan faction, still remain highly critical of President Abdurrahman Wahid because of the dismissal of two of his Cabinet ministers some time ago, together with the possibility of "money politics", or vote buying, adds to the uncertainty of the situation. This problem still hangs like a sword of Damocles over Abdurrahman's head, although efforts have been made to defuse the situation.

Whatever the stance of the political parties in this matter may be, however, for the Indonesian public at large there is nothing to be gained and a good deal to the lost from impeaching the President so soon at the beginning of his political career.

Under the current Constitution drafted in 1945, the President is required to account for his actions and policies only at the end of his five-year term. Or the MPR could call a special session whenever it is found by the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Indonesian legislature, that the President has digressed from the Constitution.

The majority of Indonesians, no doubt, would prefer that things were left as they are. Amending the Constitution to empower the annual sessions of the MPR to call a special session would open the door to political chaos and uncertainty worse than the nation experienced in the 1950s. What the consequences would be of having a new president every year is something that would be difficult to foretell.

Because of all this it is of paramount importance that the MPR this time set a good precedent for future annual sessions to follow. For that to be possible, it is important that all the parties involved set aside their group and individual petty interests and start working for the good of the nation. Not only Indonesians, but foreign investors too are watching with interest what direction this country's top legislative body will take.