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Indonesia moves toward unseating its president

After yesterday's subdued protests in support of Mr. Wahid, analysts say his days are numbered.

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President Abdurrahman Wahid's supporters were girding for yesterday's battle for more than a month. Supporters in his East Java stronghold formed self-styled "suicide squads" and threatened to use magic powers to take legislators hostage and stop impeachment proceedings.

Mr. Wahid told anyone who would listen that it would be "understandable" if they stormed parliament to stop it from voting to continue the impeachment process against him. At least one opposition leader took to wearing a bullet-proof vest in response.

But all was calm in Jakarta, with roughly 20,000 Wahid supporters on the streets, far fewer than the roughly 400,000 the president predicted would pour into the capital. A few thousand protesters huddled in the rain outside the gates of parliament, as speaker after speaker inside denounced the president.

"Wahid has totally lost the trust of the people and the international community," says legislator Irwan Prayitno, who helps lead a caucus of Islamic parties that helped elect Wahid 17 months ago. It now appears his Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle has the most seats in parliament, will succeed him.

At press time, parliament had yet to vote on the issuing of a second censure, a mandatory part of the impeachment process. But leaders of nearly every political faction, with the exception of Mr. Wahid's National Awakening Party and the military, expressed support for the move.

Wahid's hole card in his evolving poker game with parliament was the threat of mass demonstrations. The events of the past two days have exposed the threat of mass action as a bluff and Wahid's presidency now appears helpless.

Parliament is using Wahid's alleged involvement in two financial scandals to get rid of a leader most legislators believe is too erratic for the country's good.

"The legislators were already angry at the way the president's party had tried to bully them into changing course. Now they smell blood,'' says political scientist Andi Mallarangeng, who helped draft Indonesia's electoral laws.

But Wahid has vowed not to step down. In a nationally televised Friday night speech - read for the blind and ailing president by spokesman Wimar Witoelar - Wahid described himself as "the glue that binds the nation" and asked for more time.


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