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Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid failed to retain the loyalty of a majority of the People's Representative Council yesterday as the governing body voted overwhelmingly -- by a 365-4 margin -- to initiate impeachment hearings.
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Wahid's ouster, which most likely will come before the end of the summer, will send his supporters into a frenzy; indeed, many have pledged to fight to the death in support of the president. As the military and police focus their efforts on restoring stability in the capital and island of Java, volatile conflicts in Aceh, Borneo and Sulawesi will surge beyond the control of security forces.
Apparently realizing the precariousness of his position, Wahid offered Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri a power sharing deal May 25, giving her control over unspecified "constitutional duties." Megawati refused, announcing four days later that her political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle would call for impeachment hearings. Together with the Golkar Party and the United Development Party, the PDIP holds 333 of the People's Representative Council's 500 seats -- enough votes to impeach the president.
In another effort to shore up support for Wahid, on May 28 Attorney General Marzuki Darusman absolved the president of all graft charges. Many of Wahid's foes had called for his impeachment on the basis of his alleged involvement in two financial scandals. According to Agence France-Presse, however, many members of parliament since have said their complaints against the president surpass legal problems to include "economic mismanagement and failure to stem separatist and communal violence."
Also on May 28, Wahid issued an executive order ordering Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to restore law and order. However, Amien Rais -- assembly speaker and influential leader of the anti-Wahid National Mandate Party -- said the executive order held no special value and merely reflected "the president's confusion." House Speaker Akbar Tanjung said the House would ignore the order -- belying speculation that the executive order might serve as precursor to a presidential edict dissolving the House.
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As the parliament's efforts to oust the president intensify, violence increases throughout the country. On May 29, some 5,000 Wahid partisans attacked the provincial parliament in the country's second-largest city, Surabaya. A day earlier, in Pasuruan, another city in East Java, 10,000 of the president's supporters attacked the PDIP offices, a police station and two churches.
Surprisingly, areas such as Borneo, Sulawesi and East Timor have been relatively quiet in recent weeks. All eyes are focused on the political situation in Jakarta. Thousands of Wahid's supporters also have entered the city, and police say they have confiscated more than 500 sickles, knives and machetes, AFP reported May 29.
Separatist leaders undoubtedly are aware police forces in Jakarta cannot handle the violence likely to ensue should the parliament impeach Wahid. Already, military forces have redeployed to Jakarta to help maintain security in the capital. If the situation in Jakarta, and the rest of Java, deteriorates further, the military undoubtedly will redeploy more forces from outlying areas. With the decrease in military presence in the provinces, separatist leaders will have an increased opportunity to assert their power.
Signs have emerged, however, that violence may erupt before the impeachment begins. In Aceh, 19 people were killed May 27. Eight more followed May 29. The same day, three people were killed and 30 injured as two grenades exploded on the border of East and West Timor.
The Indonesian military faces a difficult situation. Indonesia's security forces desire nothing more than to reinstate unity and stability. Although the military has begun to heal its internal rifts, it has a long way to go and too little time. Even if the military could cease its infighting, it has lost too much strength to stamp out the many separatist movements and halt the country's gradual dissolution. Indonesian security forces simply do not have the strength to secure the center while maintaining stability throughout the rest of the country.