Sat, 06 May 2000

Gus Dur insists on lifting communism ban

NUSA DUA, Bali (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid is staking his reputation in proposing the revocation of a 34-year-old decree banning communism, saying he is willing to be branded a traitor.

"I don't care if people consider me a traitor, go ahead. What's clear is that I will propose the revocation of the decree at the next general session of the MPR in August," the President said here on Friday, referring to the People's Consultative Assembly.

Abdurrahman insisted Provisional People's Consultative Assembly Decree No. 25/1966 violates the preamble to the 1945 Constitution.

"That decree prohibits people from expressing their thoughts on communist teachings, both Marxism and Leninism, while we know the 1945 Constitution guarantees people the right to express their thoughts and views," Abdurrahman said.

"As the President, I swore to uphold the Constitution. The section that must be upheld at all cost is its preamble, not its articles."

Gus Dur, as the President is known, renewed his proposal before participants of a congress of the Rotary International D3400 here and reiterated it later in the day after praying at An Nur Mosque.

Accompanying the President during his one-day visit to Bali were First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, his daughter Lisa Halim, State Minister of Social Affairs Anak Agung Gde Agung and Bali Governor Dewa Made Beratha.

Abdurrahman maintained, however, his idea remained a proposal that required the approval of the 700-member Assembly, which will convene for its annual general session in August.

He said it was completely up to the Assembly to decide whether to revoke the ban. "It's allowable for anybody to request (that the ban be lifted). I am just asking, but the anger is explosive. They call me a traitor and so on."

He said he would deliver a thorough explanation of his proposal during the commemoration of National Awakening Day on May 20.

Abdurrahman said if the people wanted to develop a clean government, freedom of expression and thought must be assured. "Even the most dangerous thoughts, because it is guaranteed by the Constitution."

Citing an example, he said the separatist Free Papua Movement had asked permission to hold a congress in Irian Jaya. "I told them if you just want to make speeches then go ahead, no problem," the President said, adding that this was permissible as long as it did not create unrest.

The decree prohibiting communism was passed following the 1965 abortive coup blamed on the now banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

Abdurrahman said earlier during a consultative meeting with the House of Representatives that he agreed with the banning of PKI, but challenged the ban on communism on the grounds that it violated human rights and the principles of democracy.

Abdurrahman's proposal to revoke the ban has sparked massive protests, particularly by Muslim groups. Several politicians went as far as to request the Assembly call a special session to oust Abdurrahman over his proposal. (zen/jun)