Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Akbar concerned by spread of political conflicts

JAKARTA (JP): House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung joined on Thursday in voicing his concern about the possibility of massive conflict between followers of the country's largest Muslim organizations as a result of continuous bickering among the political elite.

Speaking at an abruptly arranged media conference, Akbar called on the public not to perceive the showdown between President Abdurrahman Wahid and his critics as a dispute between Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah.

Akbar was responding to an attack on the office of the Surabaya chapter of the Islamic Students' Association (HMI) by people claiming to be supporters of Gus Dur, as the President is widely known.

"It's nothing to do with NU and Muhammadiyah," Akbar, who is also chairman of the Golkar Party and a former HMI chairman, said.

He labeled the attackers immature for linking People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais with Muhammadiyah which he formerly chaired. Abdurrahman led the NU for 15 years before he was elected president in October last year.

"We should view the current political turmoil as personal conflicts, so it should not involve supporters," Akbar remarked.

He reiterated that he had never asked Abdurrahman to step down nor initiated a special session of the MPR to ask for accountability from the President.

"It's Pak Amien who explicitly asked the President to resign. But we perceive it only as a political discourse," he contended. Amien is also a former HMI activist.

Akbar also regretted that certain government officials had blamed politicians for creating tension and causing the rupiah to plunge.

"We are just doing our duty of controlling the government. Do not make us as the scapegoat for the weakening of the rupiah," he remarked.

Akbar took the view that the current rallies against Abdurrahman, including those staged by HMI activists, were tolerable in a democratic state.

"It's normal for students. We even did more than that against former President Sukarno in the past," Akbar remarked.

Sensing the seriousness of the acrimonious dispute at the grassroots level, Abdurrahman called on the public on Wednesday to remain calm and not react emotionally to the political bickering.

But Abdurrahman's call seemed to go unheeded as NU East Java chapter chairman Ali Maschan Moesa stated on Thursday that his followers were still angry.

"It would be better for Pak Amien not to visit East Java if he wants to avoid the anger of NU supporters," Ali told reporters before meeting East Java's Governor Imam Utomo.

He said NU followers were outraged by the criticism laid against Gus Dur, including physical insults directed against the President.

He admitted that he could no longer mollify the anger of NU followers, including the members of its youth wing, the Banser civilian militia.

"NU followers can no longer accept the political maneuvers of Pak Amien," Ali remarked.

Muhammadiyah's East Java chapter chief Abdurrahim Nur was of the opinion that Ali's statement did not represent the organization, but was instead only his personal view.

"We would be better off calming the people down, instead of inflaming the masses," Abdurrahim told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

In Yogyakarta, political observer Ichlasul Amal also expressed fears that the problems facing the state could be reduced to the rift between NU and Muhammadiyah.

"Indonesia doesn't belong to either Muhammadiyah or Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Remember that," Amal, who is the rector of Gadjah Mada University, said on Thursday.

One of the causes of the problem was the fact that Abdurrahman had less than adequate resources to curb the escalating problems, he added.

"Many have criticized the President. Therefore, no one can say the problems faced by the state are merely the result of the conflict between the President and Amien Rais," Amal said.

"I don't see any fierce rift between Amien and Gus Dur that can justify the tension in the country.

"Gus Dur has his own way of leading the country. The situation is now very difficult. The foreign debt issue is one of the problems that are causing national anxiety. The national leader does not concentrate on the economy, therefore political factors will become the people's discourse."

Asked to give suggestions, Amal said that Gus Dur's leadership style should be changed. "Gus Dur must talk more about the substantial problem; economic recovery. There is no need to find a fall guy. Just try to find a solution if the talks focus on Maluku or Aceh."

Another observer, Satjipto Rahardjo, said in Semarang, Central Java, on Thursday that the nation should support Abdurrahman's administration, which is dealing with huge challenges including corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN), the threat of disintegration and a crisis of confidence. (23/har/jun/nur/sur)