[TODAY]Wahid's Ouster No Panacea for Jakarta

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[TODAY]Wahid's Ouster No Panacea for Jakarta

In a rare event even among politically developing countries moving toward democracy, Abdurrahman Wahid, the first democratically elected president in Indonesian history, was impeached and removed from his post before completing the three-year presidential term guaranteed by the constitution.

Alleged corruption and administrative failures were the reasons given for his impeachment. Although such problems are fair game for an opposition party to use in criticizing a president, they are not sufficient reasons for impeaching a president.

The removal of Wahid is, in fact, a coup d'etat by the Indonesian House of People's Representatives, and there are two root causes for his misfortunes and eventual fall.

First of all, he ignored the existence of the opposition party and Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri when making important decisions, such as changing his cabinet, as if he had forgotten both that he was elected through political negotiations and that he represented a minority party.

Second, the new constitution of the country allows a very narrow sphere of action for the head of government, with weakened political power.

Although the People's Consultative Assembly that impeached Wahid is nominally the most powerful legislative body in Indonesia - it makes constitutional changes and elect presidents - it is in reality under the House of People's Representatives' control. In other words, a president under the control of the People's Consultative Assembly is actually two notches lower than the House of People's Representatives. Presidents do not even have the right to dissolve the House of People's Representatives.

With this political structure, and because the ruling parties are in a minority, it was hard for Mr. Wahid to manage his nation effectively during his short-lived presidency.

Mrs. Megawati, the new president, faces the same problem. There are more than 300 distinct ethnic groups living on Indonesia's 3,700 islands. There are more than 200 political parties, including splinter groups. We can only guess as to when those parities, which cooperated in driving out Mr. Wahid, will collide with each other to advance their individual causes and turn on the new president to launch a political attack.

The military's influence in Indonesia makes the situation even more complicated.

Under Mr. Suharto's administration, the military's political role was guaranteed by the constitution, and they participated in the People's Consultative Assembly along with other lawmakers and regional representatives. Although its power has been reduced, the army is crucial in keeping the country unified. We can see how the military was accustomed to privileges from its suppression of minorities in East Timor, Arian Jaya and Acheh.

The Indonesian government supplies only 25 to 30 percent of the military budget; the military must provide the rest of its funds by itself, so it is active in business as well.

The International Monetary Fund demanded and won some curbs on the military's business activities following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, but it still plays a large role in business and was pivotal in ousting the Wahid administration. We are interested in seeing how it will use its strengthened clout in the new administration.

If the military and police had cooperated with Mr. Wahid's declaration of a state of emergency, he might not have been impeached, but the military turned its back on Mr. Wahid and tried to prevent mass rallies by his supporters. During the undemocratic removal of the president by the People's Legislative Assembly, Mrs. Megawati and her supporters needed the military's help, and the military will now probably ask for its dividends.

During the 1997 financial crisis, the United States and the International Monetary Fund forced Indonesia to undertake radical reforms, with no thought to the country's special conditions. As a result, 15 banks closed overnight, food and oil monopolies were ended and government financial support to businesses was prohibited. Real wages in Indonesia dropped by 42 percent (in Korea they dropped by 10 percent) and business defaults jumped by 45 percent, compared to a 19 percent rise in Korea.

The Megawati administration inherits a host of unsolved economic problems, and there is little reason to think Mrs. Megawati will be a better administrator than Mr. Wahid.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. It has abundant natural resources and is located at the center of sea lanes running from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean Northeast Asia, adding to its strategic importance. It has close economic, trade and investment relationships with Korea. Although prospects for the country are not so bright, we certainly wish Mrs. Megawati well; her success is a necessity for the stability of the entire East Asian region.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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