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Indonesian President Censured Wahid May Face Impeachment Vote Over Corruption

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Legislators censured President Abdurrahman Wahid on Monday night for the second time this year, pushing Indonesia’s first democratically elected leader in a generation closer to impeachment proceedings over his alleged incompetence and role in two corruption scandals.

The rebuke, supported by 363 members of the 500-seat parliament, likely will unleash a new round of political turmoil across the world’s fourth most populous nation, escalating pressure on Wahid to resign or face legislators who have grown increasingly disenchanted with his unorthodox leadership style.

“His political legitimacy, his social legitimacy and his moral legitimacy have vaporized,” said A.M. Fatwa, deputy speaker of parliament. Wahid “is no longer suitable to lead this nation.”

Officials had feared that the parliament’s decision would trigger a violent outburst from tens of thousands of Wahid supporters who flooded into Jakarta in recent days and threatened to attack legislators supporting the rebuke. But Monday’s vote occurred peacefully, with a rainstorm, barbed wire barriers and thousands of police officers deterring attempts at retribution.

About 3,000 Wahid backers, many toting bamboo sticks and pledging to die for the president, did march through the city Monday afternoon, but almost all were turned away before they reached the parliament complex.

Wahid, a nearly blind Muslim cleric, has been accused of failing to declare a $2 million donation from the sultan of Brunei for aid to Aceh province and for his alleged involvement in the theft of $4.1 million from the government’s food distribution agency by people who claimed to be acting on his behalf, including his personal masseur. Although investigators have found no evidence that the president benefited personally from either scheme, they have become a catalyst for a growing frustration among legislators with Wahid’s erratic behavior and his failure to reinvigorate the country’s flagging economy.

The president has apologized for making mistakes but denied breaking the law. In a televised speech last week, he argued that “changing the president 100 times” will not solve Indonesia’s myriad economic, political and social problems.