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Indonesia Parliament Speaker Faces Corruption Charges - 2002-03-24

Indonesia's parliament speaker goes on trial Monday in connection with a $4 million corruption scandal. Critics say the case against the parliamentary speaker is politics as usual. But it could hurt Indonesia's second largest political party in the 2004 elections. Analysts say the trial of parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung would have been almost inconceivable just a few years ago. The veteran politician is the head of the Golkar political party, which was founded by former President Suharto and dominated Indonesian politics for more than 30 years. But times are changing. Golkar has been in opposition since Indonesia's first democratic parliamentary elections two years ago swept the party of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to power. Since becoming president last year, Ms. Megawati has promised her government would clamp down on graft. Mr. Tandjung is one of the first major politicians targeted by the government's campaign. Mr. Tandjung is charged with taking nearly $4 million from a government agency, money that was intended for a humanitarian project. He is alleged to have channeled those funds to Golkar's 1999 election campaign. Mr. Tandjung denies the charges. Critics say that the trial of Mr. Tandjung is more about politics than it is about corruption. Last July, Indonesia's national assembly voted to remove then-President Abdurrahman Wahid from power, replacing him with President Megawati. Officials from the Wahid government alleged that the move was a premeditated power-grab by legislators, and had little to do with corruption charges against President Wahid. Those charges were never proven. Ms. Megawati's term finishes in 2004, but analysts say the race for the presidency is already on amongst Indonesia's legislators. Mr. Tandjung was a presidential candidate in 1999, and despite Golkar's sagging popularity he is still considered a powerful political player.

If the corruption charges against Mr. Tandjung stand, he may be eliminated from the running in the 2004 election.