Tue, 08 Feb 2000

Time to step down

In most democracies, when a government minister is implicated in any type of misconduct, even a relatively minor financial or sexual scandal, he usually tenders his resignation without delay. In many cases, he does not even wait to be asked to do so by his president or prime minister.

But, in Indonesia, former military leader General Wiranto still seems to believe he can follow different rules from much of the rest of the world.

General Wiranto may hope his stalling tactics win him immunity from prosecution in return for eventually agreeing to step down. But even here he is likely to be disappointed, as President Wahid has already said it would be best to have the charges against him judged in an independent court.

That need not rule out the possibility of a presidential pardon at some later stage. Different countries have chosen to handle the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in different ways.

In Chile, the military demanded an amnesty before relinquishing power. But the limits to this were shown recently, when former dictator General Augusto Pinochet was detained in Britain over crimes allegedly committed under his rule.

In South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission tried to clear the record over events of the apartheid era by offering an amnesty to those who confessed to politically related crimes. That is a model some now advocate for Indonesia.

But whatever happens, there can be no question someone implicated in last August's events can remain a minister. The bloodshed in East Timor was a stain on Indonesia's reputation and one which will remain at least until those responsible are removed from office.

-- The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong