Indonesian President Apologizes but Refuses to Step Down
A defiant Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid on Friday rejected mounting calls for him to step down a day after being hit with a politically-damaging censure by parliament over two financial scandals.
"No, I will not resign. I'm here as a president and I will remain a president until my term ends" in 2004, the 60-year-old Wahid told a Muslim congregation after Friday prayers here.
Earlier in the day Wahid apologized to the public for the tension caused by his political disputes with the legislature, which have dogged his shaky 15-month government.
But he said the conflicts were part of a democratic learning curve.
"I apologize to the people for the inconvenience created during the current process of political education and the events at the parliament," Wahid told a brief press conference at the state palace.
Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar also said Wahid now felt free to push ahead with reforms without having to make political compromises.
"The president now feels that he is not supported (by his former allies). This will allow him to implement reform programs all out," he told AFX-Asia, an AFP financial affiliate, as Wahid met with some of his top military leaders.
Wahid also continued to insist on his innocence in the two multi-million-dollar financial scandals -- one dubbed Bulogate and the other Bruneigate -- and said he was disappointed with parliament's acceptance of a report which found he "may have been involved" in them.
Bulogate concerns the theft of 3.9 million dollars from the state food agency Bulog, allegedly by Wahid's masseur, Alip Agung Suwondo.
Bruneigate centers on Wahid's lack of accounting over a two-million dollar donation from the Sultan of Brunei which Wahid has claimed was a personal gift.
The Indonesian press on Friday quoted several political observers joining mounting calls for Wahid to resign voluntarily and hand over to his vice president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
"It's better for (Wahid) to resign than wait until the MPR (upper house) sets up a special session to impeach him," influential Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid told the Jakarta Post.
Several executives of Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) suggested a compromise. Wahid, they said, should step aside not down, leaving Megawati to run the government.
"The throne will stay in his hands as we will still respect him as a president. But let the whole management be controlled by Mega who will become the ad interim president," PDIP executive Jacob Tobing told the Post.
Wahid, a virtually-blind Muslim scholar, was elected in October 1999, defeating front-runner Megawati, his friend, thanks to the support of an alliance of Muslim parties and the former ruling Golkar party.
Parliament on Friday was drafting a written form of Thursday's censure in which it deemed Wahid had "violated his oath of office and a national assembly decree on clean governance" over Bulogate and Bruneigate.
PDIP parliamentarian Muchtar Buchori said the written notice would be handed to Wahid on Monday.
The censure -- which effectively puts Wahid on a three month good behavior bond -- could be the first step toward a lengthy impeachment process, if within the three months parliament finds he has not heeded the warning.
After the three months, parliament could send him a second warning, and 30 days after that an impeachment hearing could be opened by the upper house of parliament, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR).
MPR chairman Amien Rais, Wahid's main political foe who on Thursday had advocated his immediate impeachment, called on a member of his party to resign as cabinet minister. Wahid's supporters shot back and called for Rais to resign.
At the day's close, the only protestors on the streets of the capital were some 1,500 Muslim students, most of them veiled women, who marched peacefully to the palace, shouting "Force Wahid to step down now." -- JAKARTA (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)