Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Councillors flee Kampar regency

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

Dozens of university students in Kampar regency were seen on Friday "guarding" Sultan Syarif Qasim II Airport in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru, in order to prevent Kampar councillors from skipping out on the council's plenary meeting held on Saturday.

The students took the action, because they heard rumors that councillors in favor of Kampar regent Jefri Noer would leave town to avoid a crucial plenary meeting, called to decide the fate of Jefri.

"We have been on alert at the airport for the last couple days. We heard that maybe 17 councillors would try to go to Jakarta to meet the Kampar regent and do a backroom deal to abort the meeting. If enough of them skip town, the meeting'll be aborted," said Denni Jaralata, the chairman of Pekanbaru's Kampar Student Association in Pekanbaru, 60 kilometers from Kampar.

The plenary meeting must have at least two-thirds of the 45 Kampar councillors present in order to have a quorum.

Although the students kept a close eye on the airport, five councillors had reportedly already departed for Jakarta from the airport.

"We obtained the information from credible sources," Denni claimed.

He alleged that the five absconders were Safril Harun, Fachruddin, Datuk Reno, Misrahayati and Munir Junu.

The plenary meeting will be held in response to mounting protests by teachers and students in the regency who are demanding that Jefri immediately resign.

The protests began two weeks ago, when the regent held a meeting with educators. Tension rose at the meeting, when a principal from a local school, Abdul Latif Hasyim, had the audacity to question the regent about the woefully low education budget. The regent, who has been accused by all of the regency's councillors of being a high school dropout with a fake diploma, became utterly incensed at such an irreverent suggestion by a mere educator, and promptly expelled the very popular and nationally acclaimed principal from the classroom-like meeting hall.

The incident sparked massive protests in the regency, as nearly every teacher and student accused Jefri of insulting the entire teaching profession. Five days later, on Tuesday last week, up to 40,000 teachers and students took to the streets en masse demanding him to step down.

They also descended on the Kampar regency council to urge the councillors to hold a plenary meeting to fire the regent.

The council accommodated their demand, and quickly established a team of 13 councillors to investigate the problem.

After three days of probing, the team recommended that the regent be fired. But, the final say will eventually be delivered on Saturday, when the plenary meeting is held.

The mounting opposition against the regent is also a result of an accumulation of general repugnance for Jefri. Two years ago, the phony diploma debacle boiled over, but after the council voted that Jefri, nominated by the Reform faction (comprising the National Mandate Party and the Crescent Star Party), had to go, he was miraculously rescued by Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, who overruled the council.

Also on Friday, the council speaker Syaifuddin Effendi said that he would publicly announce the names of any councillors who skipped Saturday's plenary session.

He also urged people not to vote for any of them if they planned to run in the upcoming legislative elections.