Fri, 01 Dec 2000

Toward impeachment?

It seems hardly a day goes by without President Abdurrahman Wahid getting himself into some kind of trouble. With the furor over the President's tactless criticism of Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew hardly having the time to die down, 151 members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday exercised their "right of opinion" by asking the House to issue a memorandum in connection with the President's alleged breaches of the Constitution, the State Policy Guidelines, the presidential oath and a number of decrees issued last year by the country's highest policy-making body, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).

In what could well turn out to be the first step toward impeachment, the 151 legislators, representing six factions, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) which is the largest faction in the House, Golkar, the Reform faction, the United Development Party (PPP) and the Crescent Star Party (PBB), accused the President of having violated the Constitution by allowing the hoisting of the Morning Star flag of the Free Papua Movement as well as several important MPR decrees such as those on the banning the communism and on good governance. The factions also censured the President for appointing a new chief of police without consulting the House, and for a lack of sincerity in his pledge to share tasks with Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

It will take much work and time, though, from this point on to move toward impeachment. First, the proposal which was submitted on Wednesday will have to go through four stages of deliberation before it is debated in a plenary session of the House.

If the House approves the proposal, it will draw up a memorandum which is then delivered to the President. The President is then given three months to respond. Of course, the President could simply ignore the document and go his own way as if nothing happened. He has done that a few times before.

If that were the case, a second memorandum would be delivered to the President who would have one month to respond. In the event that this second memorandum is also ignored, the House of Representatives could then call on the MPR to convene a special session to impeach the President.

Clearly, this process will take time -- if it ever goes so far as the House calling for a special session of the MPR. Nevertheless, the fact that 151 members of several of the most important factions in the House have agreed to exercise their right of opinion, is warning enough for President Abdurrahman Wahid to tread more carefully from now on. Add that to the fact that Megawati has, as reported by the media, stated her readiness to take over the presidency as long as it is done according to procedures prescribed by the Constitution. The possibility of impeachment is a hazard that President Abdurrahman Wahid can hardly afford to ignore.

It is true that under current circumstances, a change in the national leadership is, or should be, the very last option Indonesians should resort to. After all, a change in the presidency may not, or at least may not immediately, bring the drastic improvements that Indonesians yearn for. On the other hand, it is more likely to usher in a new period of political instability, however transient. The best thing that can happen to this nation at present is for the President to learn his lessons and change his ways for the better. Unless he does that, this country is most likely headed for four more years of instability.