Dangerous twist to struggle for power

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2001, 12:00am

The events of the weekend indicate that dangerous new lines have been drawn in the stand-off between President Abdurrahman Wahid and a Parliament seemingly intent on removing him from office.

Although the President's staff have denied rumours he intends to declare a state of emergency, reshuffle the military's top ranks or dissolve Parliament, the message remains that he has not entirely ruled anything out.

Yesterday's cabinet meeting failed to shed any light on what may happen. Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri - who would most likely succeed Mr Wahid - earlier yesterday met with senior generals, raising the temperature in a fraught battle for supremacy.

Mr Wahid denies he plans to force through a military reshuffle as part of a desperate survival plan. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that most of the rumours appear to have originated from retired military officers and Mr Wahid's political opponents, suggesting he may be the victim of a propaganda campaign trying to paint him as high-handed.

In contrast to her silence during the recent parliamentary censure vote against the President, Ms Megawati has joined in the politicking. While urging restraint, she hinted she would take over the leadership if asked.

She told tens of thousands of members of her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) gathered in the East Javanese town of Malang that she did not seek power but wished only to follow the popular will.

Speaking via a live video-link from Jakarta, Ms Megawati rejected suggestions that a snap election be called to resolve the growing political crisis.

'As mandated by the [PDI-P] congress - the highest institution of the party - I was tasked to be a president,' the enigmatic Ms Megawati told the crowd clad in her party's red colours and waving flags to mark a party anniversary. 'The reality is different with the mandate. I have no ambition to become president except to implement that mandate.'

As usual, Ms Megawati's actions spoke louder than her words. She signified her readiness for succession by cancelling travel plans to stay close to the manoeuvring in Jakarta.

The armed forces also made some points clear. A Saturday lunch attended by 124 senior officers produced warnings from military service chiefs to Mr Wahid not to undermine the constitution. They refused to support his talk of dissolving the freely elected House of Representatives, and told Mr Wahid that any attempt to juggle military appointments would not be taken kindly.

With nine days to go before Parliament might vote to refer impeachment proceedings against Mr Wahid up to the People's Consultative Assembly, the weekend of rumour may indicate the fight to come.

Each threat and counter-move has helped clarify how far each contender in this struggle for power is prepared to go.

Mr Wahid clearly has no fear of stretching the constitution near to snapping point to keep his job, while Ms Megawati is finally bold enough to show an eagerness for the politicking. Her reported late-night talks with generals were significant, even though Ms Megawati still seems to prefer the sideways feint to direct action.