Indonesian lawmakers dismiss Wahid, make Megawati president |

Indonesian lawmakers dismiss Wahid, make Megawati president

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – President Abdurrahman Wahid tried every political maneuver he knew to stave off impeachment. But after the military ignored his order to shut down the legislature, lawmakers dismissed him and replaced him with Megawati Sukarnoputri – eldest daughter of Indonesia’s first leader.

Stripped of power and insisting that he had been removed from office unconstitutionally, the Muslim cleric refused Monday to leave the presidential palace, where his successor grew up before her father was deposed.

Outside its whitewashed walls, Indonesians could only hope that Megawati, their fourth president in three years, would end the economic ruin and bloody violence that has marred a faltering transition to democracy. Others simply wondered how long she would last as head of state.

”We’re just small people. As long as we can provide for ourselves, we don’t really care about politics,” said Nana Suryana, who sells cigarettes from a street stall.

The capital, Jakarta, was calm after Megawati’s uncontested 591-0 victory in the national assembly, Indonesia’s supreme legislative body.

There were no major celebrations after her election. Only a few hundred protesters rallied peacefully in front of the palace in support of Wahid, who had warned that his removal from office would trigger bloodshed and national disintegration.

When night fell Monday, Wahid – who is nearly blind – looked tired and confused as he was led onto the palace’s marbled terrace and briefly waved to reporters and onlookers. Dressed in shorts and slippers, he made no comment before he shuffled back into the mansion, built more a century ago by Dutch colonizers.

Wahid’s next move was not immediately clear. A legal challenge seemed unlikely after the nation’s highest court proclaimed that the legislature had the right to impeach him.

”He’s feeling a mixture of anger and shock right now,” said Greg Barton, an Australian college professor and Wahid’s biographer.

President Bush praised Indonesia for the peaceful transfer of power.

”The people of Indonesia, by addressing their leadership crisis under their constitution and laws, have shown commitment to the rule of law and democracy,” Bush said in Rome after meeting with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Megawati, the eldest daughter of Indonesia’s founding father, Sukarno, worked fast to take control over the government of the world’s fourth-most populous nation.

At her first appearance before the media as president, she read a statement ordering Wahid’s Cabinet to stop operating and promised to name a new ministerial lineup within days.

But in a style that has become her hallmark, she refused to take questions from reporters.

The new president is adored by millions of poor and middle class Indonesians and although she had served as Wahid’s deputy since 1999, she remains largely untested as a leader.

Apart from identifying herself with her father’s nationalism, she has never outlined a strategy to pull Indonesia out of its economic mire. Nor has she said how she would resolve the many ethnic, religious and separatist conflicts that threaten this sprawling Southeast Asian nation.

Despite such misgivings, lawmakers cheered when they voted her in.

”With all humbleness I accept the people’s wishes,” she said in an inaugural speech that contained no specific policy initiatives.

Indonesia needs ”discipline and unity” she said, calling on Wahid’s supporters to accept her elevation as ”the voice of the people.”

Only 21 months ago in the same chamber in the Parliament, Wahid defeated her in a tight race for the top job. The assembly chose him as Indonesia’s first democratic president in more than four decades.

He enjoyed a brief period of support, but this drained away as promises of sweeping reform came to little. He was soon criticized for visiting more than 50 nations in first year as problems at home festered.

Lawmakers accused him of involvement in two corruption scandals. When police cleared him of wrongdoing they widened their attack, accusing him of erratic policy making and misrule.

Wahid tried to bargain and bully his way out of being impeached. He offered to hand over greater powers to Megawati to persuade her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, to drop its impeachment campaign. Then on Sunday, he declared a state of emergency and ordered the military to dissolve the assembly.

But Megawati would not be wooed or cowered.

Wahid, who boycotted the impeachment hearing, made no comment after Megawati’s inauguration.

Assembly chairman Amien Rais, an architect of Wahid’s downfall, said the ex-president would be given one or two weeks to vacate the palace.

”If he leaves, it means he accepts the decision,” said former foreign minister Alwi Shihab, a friend of Wahid’s.

Asked whether Wahid would have to be forcibly removed, Shihab said: ”I don’t know. I don’t know.”

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