Sludge Report #75 – Impeachment In Indonesia
In this edition: Impeachment In Indonesia - Indonesia's Consititional Flaws - It's Hard When You're Both Right
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Sludge Report #75
Impeachment In Indonesia - Indonesia's Consititional Flaws - It's Hard When You're Both Right
Indonesia is suffering the growing pains of democracy rather intensely today.
As President Abdurrahman Wahid faces the commencement of impeachment proceedings against him in the People's Consultative Assembly, the flower of democracy that flowered less than two short years ago in Indonesia is being trampled.
President Gus Dur (Wahid’s commonly used alternative Indonesian name), is rightly upset by the conduct of Indonesian Parliament, which is clearly misusing the institution of impeachment against him.
On the other hand the Indonesian Parliament’s frustrations and affront are equally real and justified in the circumstances. They feel they have reached a deadlock with their President and find themselves with no other way out.
For a Parliament to seemingly not have any effective method of restraint against the Executive office of the President, is also wrong in a democracy.
That said in Sludge’s view, this is not quite as dangerous a crisis as it appears to be on the surface.
Rather, we have here the normal growing pains of the democratic process. Various components of the new, and first truly democratic, Indonesian government are learning about the roles that they play in the whole. Unfortunately a few wrong turns have been taken along the way, but the game is by no means over yet.
One only needs to look back around 18 months to see equally volatile circumstances leading eventually to the appointment of Wahid as President, and his ally, Amien Rais as the Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly.
During and after the Indonesian elections of June 1999 nobody thought the blind, frail, yet charismatic Islamic cleric Gus Dur would be the first Democratically Elected President of Indonesia.
Transitional President Habibe and Megawati Sukarnoputri (leader of the largest Parliamentary party) were originally the main contenders. Habibe began to look like a lame duck after East Timor went West, and the Enigmatic General Wiranto also of East Timor debacle fame, looked a contender for a while . But he eventually fell in behind Megawati.
She seemed a dead cert for the role, but in the end perhaps because of her apparent closeness to the military, when the People’s Consultative Assembly finally convened (NOTE: The PCA is made up of the elected members of Parliament plus a roughly equal number of representatives from the regions of Indonesia – the Indonesian equivalent of the State Governments of the Union of the USA.) to elect the President, Abdurrahman Wahid was the compromise, and surprise victor.
At the time the decision looked to be a good one. Gus Dur is nothing if not peaceable, and in the circumstances having a peaceable first President of the Indonesian Republic was kind of crucial.
However it was also equally obvious that Wahid as President was not necessarily a formula that would lead to plain sailing in the waters of Indonesian democracy.
As a compromise victor in the PCA election, Dur arguably never had the majority support of his Parliament, it is now more than clear that he has lost their confidence.
In theory of course this should not be a problem. The President of the USA does not necessarily enjoy the confidence of his House of Representatives or Senate, and in fact has rarely enjoyed the confidence of both.
But while the President of the USA does not serve at the pleasure of the House of Representatives (as the Prime Minister of Westminster Style Governments such as the UK, Australia or NZ do), on the other hand no US President has – at least in recent times - faced an almost unanimous motion of censure from his Parliament, as Wahid recently has.
Impeachment meanwhile is a ringer, an interloper in the Democratic process which is unwelcome.
The idea of prosecuting Presidents for crimes in order to try and have them removed from office is a recently new development in the political landscape. Before Bill Clinton was tried over Lewinskygate, the last US President to face an impeachment trial was Richard Nixon, and he really had done something wrong.
Unfortunately however, in wake of the Lewinsky affair, the idea of impeaching President’s on trumped up charges in an attempt to get rid of them has acquired a certain vogue.
And as far as Indonesia is concerned the fact the New President of the Philippines has become the beneficiary of this avenue of constitutional change does not help dispel the idea that it is part of the legitimate political arsenal.
It is hardly surprising therefore that the Indonesian Parliament is attempting to misuse this route to get rid of Wahid. From its perspective it has no other course of action.
In Sludge’s view this all highlights a fundamental flaw in the constitutional arrangements of Indonesia.
As currently configured the constitution appears to be driving the branches of the Government, the executive and the legislature, into conflict with one another. What is needed is a pressure release system, to enable the Indonesian Parliament to effectively express its will, without pushing the President into a corner an accusing him of being a criminal.
If, for example, it were possible for the Indonesian Parliament to call for the People’s Consultative Assembly to be convened to test its confidence in the President, then it would be unnecessary for the Parliament to attempt to impeach him.
Then President Gus Dur’s fate would be decidedin a far more legitimate fashion (and without the affront to his honour) than the likely farce which we can now expect to begin in a few weeks.
Instead of simply voting the President in or out of office, and let’s face it that’s the essence of democracy, an attempt will be made to convict President Wahid, by democratic vote, of a criminal offence.
Along the way a mockery will be made of both justice and democracy. And Gus Dur is therefore right to point out that this process is an affront to the rule-of-law.
That said, there is also a little elegance in having this the first true Indonesian constitutional crisis, referred back to the People’s Consultative Assembly for resolution.
In the end, just as they did in the difficult days before the October 1999 election of President Wahid, the parties in this game, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Gus Dur, The Military, The Parliament and the members of the PCA, will be called upon to consider how much they value the democratic institutions they are in the process of learning to use.
They have a choice. They can let the flower of democracy be trampled by venality and personal ambition, or they can defend the principle and spirit of their constitution by seeking a resolution that history will record as honourable.
In other words, just as it was when President Wahid was elected, it is probably time for Indonesia’s power brokers to start searching for another compromise.