Indonesian MPs turn on tainted President and Indonesia faces up to its tattered democracy

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The Independent Online

The last time Abdurrahman Wahid walked through the doors of the strange green domes where Indonesia's national assembly meets, he did so in an atmosphere of triumphant optimism. Against all expectations, and after a series of brilliant political manoeuvres, he had been elected the first genuinely democratic president of the world's fourth largest nation.

The last time Abdurrahman Wahid walked through the doors of the strange green domes where Indonesia's national assembly meets, he did so in an atmosphere of triumphant optimism. Against all expectations, and after a series of brilliant political manoeuvres, he had been elected the first genuinely democratic president of the world's fourth largest nation.

In his acceptance speech he spoke of national unity, political reform, and "honest accountability". With his wit, informality and tolerance he seemed to promise a new start for South-east Asia's most troubled country.

This morning, however, he will stand again before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to give an account of his presidency, with his reputation and high ideals in tatters.

Less than 10 months into his five-year term, he is the object of growing disillusionment, bordering on outright cynicism - in the next 11 days, the 700 members of the MPR will enumerate in detail his failings as a president. A few weeks ago, it seemed quite possible he would be voted out of office, although that is now very unlikely. But the best he can expect from this month's assembly is a harsh scolding; at worst, he will emerge fatally wounded, waiting for a coup de grâce a few months down the line.

The MPR gathers in an atmosphere of greater than usual tension in Jakarta, after a mysterious bomb killed two at the home of the Philippines ambassador last week. Thirty thousand police and soldiers have been drafted in to keep the peace in Jakarta, and the police have been given orders to shoot rioters on sight.

Indonesia is in a state of dismal uncertainty, little improved from the day President Wahid took office. In the north-west province of Aceh, dozens of people are killed every week in battles between the army and Muslim guerrillas fighting for an independent state. In the Moluccan islands, the near civil war between Christians and Muslims has become so bad that there is talk of intervention by UN peace-keepers. Indonesia's economy has made something of a recovery from the catastrophic financial crisis of 1997, but the government's failures to modernise its laws and root out corruption continue to put off foreign investors.

The government is blamed for its lack of vigour, but the biggest problem is Mr Wahid himself. For the first few weeks, his ambling, evasive, often contradictory manner seemed charmingly unselfconscious. Gus Dur ("Brother Dur"), as he is known, would arrive late for appointments, fall asleep in meetings, and deny statements he had made in front of cameras the previous day. At dinner last week at the home of a Western ambassador, he spent the entire time cracking jokes and talking about his favourite football team, Liverpool.

But as time has passed, his eccentricities have started to resemble arrogance. In April, he peremptorily sacked two cabinet ministers, including a popular economic reformer, Laksamana Sukardi. When the Indonesian parliament asked the president to explain the decision, he refused.

Most seriously of all, for a man formerly esteemed for his honesty, there are signs of corruption among his entourage. Mr Wahid's personal masseur vanished without a trace after apparently diverting $7m (£4.7m) from the state logistics agency. The president himself admitted receiving $3m from the Sultan of Brunei, despite an absence of any apparent qualifications, and his brother was appointed to a senior position on the body responsible for restructuring Indonesia's corruption-riddled banks.

The charitable view of all this is that Mr Wahid is a victim of his own unfortunate circumstances - he is almost completely blind, and relies entirely on his aides and family to read state documents to him.

The harsher view is depressingly simple - that Mr Wahid, having achieved power, is being corrupted by it. "The leaders of this government have already become infected with the virus of corruption," said Mr Sukardi, the reformer who lost his job in government. "If this continues, Indonesia is not going anywhere."

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