Sun, 06 Aug 2000

Evaluating Gus Dur

President Abdurrahman Wahid is always the center of attention, and sometimes because of his controversial statements. He will be under the media microscope on Monday morning at the opening of the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR). What do the people think of the President's performance so far and his future?

JAKARTA (JP): While President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid may have disillusioned millions of people in this country, many feel he should still be given a chance to lead the nation out of its present political, economic and social predicaments.

This view, already voiced by political analysts in the plethora of seminars and talk shows held in recent weeks, largely corroborates what 21 ordinary people said about the President's performance when asked by The Jakarta Post this past week.

In the run-up to this week's annual gathering of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the Post approached 21 people from all walks of life in different cities and towns to get their evaluation of Gus Dur's performance (See Page 6).

The main agenda of the MPR meeting, which opens on Monday, is to listen to the President's progress report on his first 10 months in office.

While the threat of the meeting turning into an impeachment process has been widely discounted, the Assembly nevertheless will debate a motion to allow the MPR at any time to call for an emergency session to impeach the President.

Gus Dur will survive the grilling this week, but the threat of impeachment, which first surfaced in May amid growing public disenchantment with his leadership, will continue to haunt him after the MPR meeting, especially if he fails to take heed of the reservations expressed about his presidency and mend his ways accordingly.

Answers given by the 21 people questioned tallied with the result of a new survey on the opinions of members of the House of Representatives conducted by the Independent Election Monitoring Committee (KIPP), which was reported in the Tokoh magazine last week.

The KIPP survey, with a random sample of 50 elected House members from 10 factions, reflects to a large extend the degree that House members truly represent the aspirations of the public.

Only 4 percent of the respondents in KIPP survey say that Gus Dur's performance has lived up to people's expectations, while the majority, 56 percent, say there has been progress but not enough. Another 27 percent of the respondents say conditions in the country have worsened.

As many as 58 percent of the respondents say they will accept Gus Dur's progress report with reservations, 13 percent say they will accept it unconditionally and 2 percent say they will reject it.

Some 46 percent of the respondents say Gus Dur should be given a chance to continue with his presidency, 33 percent say he should reshuffle the Cabinet and forge a new political consensus and 2 percent say he should resign or be replaced.

KIPP's survey as well as the response to the Post's questions indicate that talks of impeachment may have stolen the headlines these past few weeks, but the prevailing attitude in the House and among the public is that, for all his shortcomings, Gus Dur must remain president.

Different reasons have been cited for wanting Gus Dur to stay, but they fall into one of two groups. The first are those who feel that replacing him would only lead to more chaos and would therefore solve nothing. The second group feels that there are no viable alternative candidates to take his place.

Many people also feel that Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who will take over by default if Gus Dur resigns or is impeached, is either not ready or not capable of filling in his shoes.

There is a general consensus that Gus Dur's greatest contribution during his presidency has been in promoting democracy, particularly free speech, and civil society, including in bringing the Indonesian Military to a large extent under control.

There are divergent views, however, about what have been his biggest failures, ranging from the economy, the security situation including the rising crime rate, enforcement of the law, eliminating corruption, to his penchant to make statements that confuse the people.

There is also consensus that some of these problems were not Gus Dur's fault, that they were inherited from past regimes, and that these problems would have been too complex for any president to deal with.

There is also a general feeling that the political elite -- meaning the political parties, the House and Assembly members -- have played a part in creating the current political chaos and therefore in undermining Gus Dur's efforts to bring the country out of its current predicament. (emb)