Wahid's Coalition Weakens

The Cinema Society + Hugo Boss Host A Screening Of "Fracture" - After Actor Ryan Gosling and his mother, Donna, attend the after party for a special screening of "Fracture" hosted by The Cinema Society and Hugo Boss on April 17, 2007 in New York City.
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Fueling speculation that Abdurrahman Wahid's coalition government may be disintegrating, Indonesia's justice minister resigned Wednesday after recommending that the president step down.

The dramatic departure of Justice Minister Yusril Mahendra came as 50,000 people in Wahid's home province staged violent protests against attempts to impeach the president for alleged corruption. Parliament censured Wahid last week over the allegations, the first step toward impeachment.

Pro-Wahid mobs rampaged through Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, setting fire to the office of a rival political party which has been pushing for him to leave office. It was the biggest demonstration in Indonesia in the 15 months since Wahid became its first democratically elected head of state in more than four decades.

"This is a bitter lesson. This is the price of democracy," Wahid told reporters at the presidential palace.

Wahid said Mahendra had quit after his ministerial colleagues criticized him for publicly suggesting that the president should leave office over his alleged role in two multimillion-dollar graft scandals.

Mahendra's departure follows that Jan. 2 of Administrative Reform Minister Ryaas Rasyid, who had overseen a plan to decentralize power in Indonesia. Rasyid said the government was moving too slowly to implement the plan and was unprepared.

Until now, Wahid has boasted that he enjoyed the full backing of his Cabinet.

Luckless Leaders
Indonesia's Wahid joins a list of world leaders who've had trouble clinging to power in the past year. Several haven't been able to stay in office:

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry

  • Resigned June, 2000, after 56 days as a hostage of coup leaders.

    Solomon Islands
    Prime Minister Ulufa'alu

  • Resigned June, 2000, after militants seized power.

    Slobodan Milosevic

  • Defeated in September, 2000, elections, the Serb nationalist tried to claim victory, sparking street protests. In early October, he conceded defeat and is now the subject of negotiations over whether and where he'll face war crimes charges.

    Ivory Coast
    General Robert Guei

  • Defeated in October, 2000, elections, Guei tried to declare himself the winner but gave up power and went inthiding after massive protests.

    President Alberto Fujimori

  • While on a foreign trip in November, 2000, Fujimori resigned over a bribery scandal involving his former spy chief. He is seeking political asylum in Japan.

    President Joseph Estrada

  • Left office Jan. 20, 2001, in the face of protests over corruption allegations that led to impeachment charges against him. Claims he did not resign.


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    An investigative committee last week released a report claiming that Wahid was aware of an illegal transfer of $4 million from a government agency by a former business associate. It also criticized him for failing to declare a $2 million aid donation from the ruler of neighboring Brunei.

    However, the panel found no proof that Wahid benefitted personally from the schemes. But lawmakers angered by his intransigence and erratic style of government used the findings to initiate the parliamentary procedure.

    Last week's parliamentary censure requires Wahid to explain his actions within three months. If he fails to respond, lawmakers can give him one more month. After that he can be impeached.

    Wahid, who maintains his innocence in the corruption case, has rejected calls for him to quit.

    The head of Indonesia's lower legislative house, Amien Rais, is pressing for a special impeachment session within eight weeks. A normal impeachment proceeding could take four months to launch.

    But on Monday two leading parties and the military rejected the move for an early session, effectively killing the proposal.

    Analysts expect him to survive for now because of the fears of violence if he loses office, the lack of a credible alternative and the complexity of the impeachment proceedings.

    The violent support for the cleric highlights the dangers the world's fourth most populous state faces if he is ousted.

    Heavily outnumbered security forces in Wahid's political heartland of East Java fired warning shots and teargas to try to quell the angry protests, the biggest since he became Indonesia's first democratically elected leader 15 months ago.

    Wahid called on the masses to exercise restraint despite efforts to impeach him.

    Witnesses said one protester was shot in the neck. There were reports of at least two other injuries from the rampage.

    Around 2,000 Wahid supporters also took to the streets in the key central Java cities of Yogyakarta and Semarang.

    Salim Said, a prominent political analyst, said that despite the pro-Wahid protests, the president was rapidly losing support.

    "Everyone has abandoned Wahid," Salim said. "He is afraid that what happened in the Philippines could happen here," referring to the protests that drove Philippine President Joseph Estrada from office last month.

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