Fri, 03 Dec 1999

Axis Force to retaliate against external threats

JAKARTA (JP): The "axis force", a loose coalition of political parties led by Amien Rais, warned it would retaliate against attempts to undermine its strength.

Amien, the chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly, expressed his disappointment on Thursday that Hamzah Haz's replacement as coordinating minister for people's welfare and poverty eradication was not a United Development Party (PPP) member.

Hamzah is the chairman of PPP, while his replacement, the little-known Basri Hasanuddin, is a former university rector and member of the Assembly.

"The axis force is disappointed with Hamzah Haz's replacement, who is not from PPP," Amien said.

Amien said PPP was the largest member of the axis force, whose support was pivotal in Abdurrahman Wahid's defeat of Megawati Soekarnoputri in the presidential election.

Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, announced last week he had accepted the resignation of Hamzah. However, the resignation has been surrounded by controversy, with some PPP officials claiming their chairman was "dismissed".

These officials say Hamzah never formally submitted his resignation to Abdurrahman, who claimed that Hamzah was stepping down to focus more attention on his duties as PPP chairman.

Speaking to journalists after meeting with several foreign ambassadors here on Thursday, Amien conceded that Hamzah was not dismissed but had resigned.

"It's only that the way he was replaced was not prudent, especially because his replacement was not from PPP.

"It should have been someone from PPP, which makes up the largest segment of the axis force, which elected Gus Dur," Amien said.

Amien agreed PPP had the right to be disappointed with the President over the affair.

He said the axis force, which comprises PAN and several Islamic-based parties, expressed its discontent with the President through Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab.

"I, as someone who actively forged the axis force, believe the stability of the government will depend on the direction the President will now take," Amien said.

While asserting that he did not believe Abdurrahman was intentionally distancing himself from the axis force, Amien did hint at attempts to undermine the political grouping.

Amien warned the axis force could mount a counteroffensive, without identifying those behind the alleged attempts to weaken the grouping.

"Don't forget that the axis force is very strong. Because of that, if there are those who want to enfeeble us we will hit back. We will retaliate," he asserted.

Without going into detail, PPP official Husni Thamrin also alleged that there was a movement to cripple the axis force, beginning with PPP.

"But I warn you, don't start throwing punches because the axis force can throw one back," he said.

PPP deputy chairman Tosari Wijaya also claimed there was "a grand conspiracy" aimed at destroying the axis force. He said this conspiracy included rumors of corruption such as had swirled around Hamzah and Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who heads the Crescent Star Party.

Tosari said a recent call by legislators from the Indonesian Democratic of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) to censure Amien Rais over his support of federalism also was part of the conspiracy.

Outside Jakarta, PPP officials were also up in arms about the whole affair.

"We want President Abdurrahman to legally clarify Hamzah's resignation, whether it is true or not that he is involved in corruption," Mudrick M. Sangidoe, a PPP chairman from the Surakarta chapter, Cental Java, said on Thursday.

The central board of PPP is slated to hold a two-day leadership meeting on Sunday and demand the President to clear up the matter.

"The President quickly officially clarified Yusril Ihza Mahendra saying that he was innocent following similar rumors. Why does he not do the same for Hamzah?"

"Instead of doing that the President replaces him. What's going on?" Mudrick charged.

PPP's Central Java chairman M. Toyfoer separately expressed disappointment that a non-PPP cadre was handed Hamzah's post. (jun/har/edt)