July 20, 2001
|Initially hailed as Indonesia's first democratically elected head of state, Abdurrahman Wahid is now engaged in a pitched political battle that could topple his presidency.|
| Many say there's little hope
the 61-year-old Muslim cleric will remain Indonesia's president much longer.
Since winning election in October of 1999, Wahid has been damaged by two
financial scandals, continuing ethnic violence, and a floundering economy.
The financial scandals -- in which Wahid is accused of misusing over $6 million -- led to two parlimentary censure motions and an impeachment hearing, originally due to begin August 1. A growing power struggle between Wahid and opposition leaders have moved those proceedings to July 21.
If Wahid is removed from office, popular vice president Megawati Sukarnoputri -- the daughter of Indonesia's founding President Sukarno and Wahid's main rival for the presidency in 1999 -- would finish out Wahid's term until new elections are held in 2004.
Wahid has ignored calls to resign and has threatened to declare a state of emergency and dissolve parliament. Members of parliament have said any such move would only speed up impeachment proceedings. Officials from Indonesia's police force have said they, too, would not comply with a state of emergency decree.
As recently as May 16, Wahid said his situation was not as dire as others might believe.
"I am not worried. The majority of the members of parliament don't like the [idea of] impeachment," he recently told The Washington Post. "If they decide to go ahead with it, the people will rise up. There are ways to make parliament negotiate with the president."
Meanwhile, legislators like Amien Rais, speaker of the 700-member parliament that will decide whether to remove Wahid, have said the president's days are numbered.
"Unfortunately, he has lost the trust of the people and we must say enough is enough," Rais told CNN. "Only a miracle can help him."
|Melding politics and religion|
Frail and nearly blind following two strokes, Wahid is guided by an aide at all times and has had several speeches read for him by his staff.
Nonetheless, those seeking to oust the president have found, despite his ill health, Wahid enjoys tremendous support. Indeed, each step against him in the parliament building has sparked a backlash in Indonesia's streets.
Thousands protested in both Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, and Wahid's home region of East Java after the parliament announced impeachment hearings. Similar demonstrations followed censure motions earlier this year.
Wahid has warned that his ouster could lead to a more violent response from his followers -- some of whom have reportedly formed suicide squads to protect "Gus Dur" -- a nickname for Wahid, meaning "brother Dur."
To the nearly 30 million members of Nahdlatul Ulama -- the world's largest Muslim organization, led by Wahid until his 1999 election -- Wahid is more than just a head of state -- he is a religious icon.
"We can't predict what will happen if Gus Dur falls. It will be hard to control [his followers]," said Muslim cleric Gus Ipong, a religious leader in East Java, in an interview with Reuters last month.
"We're just little people," said another resident, "but we love Gus Dur. He was legally elected and the moves to make him fall are wrong."
|Decades of activism|
Before his health problems became serious, Wahid worked for years promoting religious and ethnic tolerance and opposing Indonesia's dictatorial system.
Born in East Java in 1940, Wahid studied in Cairo, Baghdad and Canada and later taught at several Indonesian universities and Islamic schools.
He was elected general chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama in 1984, a position he held for 15 years. While there, Wahid fought against the government of President Suharto and, in 1991, formed Forum Democracy, an organization to promote political freedom in Indonesia.
When Suharto's government fell amid massive protests in 1998, Wahid was recovering from a serious stroke. He returned to politics in 1999, forming the National Awakening Party in preparation for parliamentary elections in June -- Indonesia's first free election in 44 years.
Wahid initially supported Megawati's presidential bid to oust sitting President B.J. Habibie. Finally, as the assembly's October vote grew closer, Wahid threw his own hat into the ring.
|A dark horse victory|
|After 14 hours of debate in the assembly, Wahid managed
a thin victory over Megawati by a vote of 373 to 313.
Wahid's Muslim-based National Awakening Party had only polled 11 percent in parliamentary elections that June, falling far behind the 34 percent garnered by Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. But living up to his reputation as a shrewd politician, Wahid won support from the Golkar Party, the party of former President Suharto.
In the months before the assembly's decision, Megawati's seemed poised to unseat Habibie, who was struggling with a failing economy and the loss of East Timor. As the assembly was poised to choose the next leader, Habibie dropped out of the race.
Megawati, who had been widely expected to win the presidency, accepted Wahid's offer to become his vice president following her defeat, ending days of rioting by her supporters.
Although few questioned Wahid's popularity, there were some who worried the task of leading a country of nearly 225 million people on more than 13,000 islands was more than the frail Wahid could handle.
"Gus Dur is strange, strange," Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, a former cabinet minister, told the New York Times during the campaign. "In no way should he stand as a candidate. He is in ill health. He suffered a major stroke one and a half years ago. It has impaired his judgment and he is showing that."
-- By Greg Barber, The Online NewsHour