Wahid Drops Attempt to Regain Power, Warns of Repressive Rule


Ousted President Abdurrahman Wahid gave up his desperate attempt to regain power Wednesday and agreed to vacate the presidential palace today but warned against the return of authoritarian rule.

Wahid, who maintains that he is still legally and morally president despite his dismissal by the People's Consultative Assembly, forecast "the return of censorship" and predicted that his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, would not last more than three months in office.

The assembly, Indonesia's highest governing body, voted overwhelmingly Monday to remove Wahid after 21 months of ineffective rule and to replace him with Megawati, his vice president.

Wahid rejected the assembly's decision and had refused to budge from the palace as he awaited an outpouring of public protest that never materialized.

In a face-saving solution, the nearly blind and ailing Muslim cleric said he will travel to the United States for treatment of his erratic blood pressure.

His doctor, who is also his brother, said he fears the deposed president could suffer a third stroke if he does not receive preventive care. Wahid is expected to leave today for Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.

The 700-member assembly spent the day narrowing the field of candidates to succeed Megawati as vice president and scheduled a vote for today.

The leading candidate was Hamzah Haz, leader of the Islamic-oriented United Development Party, who once served as welfare minister in Wahid's Cabinet. In 1999, he helped block Megawati's accession to the presidency on the ground that a woman should never govern Indonesia. Like other legislators who opposed her then, he supported her this time around.

Also in the running for vice president was House Speaker Akbar Tanjung, leader of the Golkar Party, which served as the ruling party of the authoritarian Suharto regime until the military dictator was forced from office in 1998.

Haz, who won 254 votes in the second round of voting, and Tanjung, who received 203 votes, were scheduled to face off in a final round this morning. Because Wahid's supporters in the assembly are boycotting the session in protest, only 307 votes are needed to win.

Defeated on the earlier ballots were two retired generals, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Agum Gumelar, who served one after another as chief security minister during Wahid's final months.

Megawati told legislative leaders that she had no preference among the candidates and would leave it to the assembly to select the vice president. As the delegates met, she flew to Blitar in East Java to visit the grave of her father, founding Indonesian President Sukarno.

The nonviolent transfer of power--the first in Indonesia's history--won praise from leaders around the world who took it as a sign that democracy was beginning to take hold in the turbulent Southeast Asian archipelago.

Wahid had warned for months that his supporters would take to the streets and that distant provinces would declare their independence if he were ousted.

But his threats seem to have been without basis. Wahid, who began his term amid great hopes for change, squandered his opportunity to improve the lives of Indonesians and in the end gave even his most ardent followers little reason to fight in his behalf.

Once viewed as a clever political tactician, Wahid acknowledged in his first public comments since his ouster that he had misjudged his adversaries' determination to push him out of office.

"I was wrong in my estimates of the politicians' backbone," Wahid told Associated Press Television News.

He said his dismissal was a victory for a military that wants to return to the days of the Suharto regime, when generals had unparalleled influence.

As president, Wahid battled frequently with the military in an effort to bring it under civilian control. On Monday, when Wahid ordered the armed forces to halt the proceedings of the assembly before it could oust him, the generals refused, paving the way for Megawati's election.

"They used the quarrel between the politicians to set up their own rule, which I think will slide little by little to the old ways," Wahid said.

Wahid, who has been friends with Megawati since they were children, outmaneuvered her to become president in 1999. But with his dismissal, he said, their friendship is over.

"I will not issue any advice to Megawati," he said. "The ouster is illegal, and I will have nothing to do with [her administration]."

In a separate interview, Wahid told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Megawati would be brought down within three months because it would be easier for the legislators to "dump her than to dump me."

Asked why, Wahid hinted that corruption allegations could surface against people close to Megawati, but the former president declined to be specific. "I can't divulge that now," he said. "That's not nice."

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