Tue, 08 Aug 2000

Gus Dur pledges to work harder

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid apologized to the nation on Monday for the shortcomings of his first 10 months in office and pledged to work harder to lift the country out of its current predicament.

Presenting his annual progress report to the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), the President said the problems were immense and complex to begin with, and that many were the legacy of the past administration's misrule.

"To all the Indonesian people, I extend my apologies if the government has not fully resolved all the problems.

"Trust me that we shall strive, work harder and fight to do much more," the nearly blind President said in a speech read by Cabinet Secretary Marsilam Simanjuntak.

Gus Dur, as the President is also known, said he would forge ahead with the political reform agenda and overcome the threat of national disintegration and separatist movements.

On Maluku, he promised to make more efforts to promote reconciliation among the conflicting religious communities, while on Aceh and Irian Jaya, he promised special autonomy status before the end of the year. While offering to accommodate the aspirations of people in the two regions, he ruled out compromising with law breakers.

On the economy, the President acknowledged that while there had been good progress in the short time he had been given, it fell short of people's expectations.

He promised to continue to reform the military and to uphold press freedom even though some media institutions were prone to violate their code of ethics.

He conceded that his performance in upholding law supremacy was nothing to be proud of, but believed that he was on the right track.

The President's progress report kicked off the MPR's Annual Session which marks a new tradition in giving the Assembly more power to check on the performance of the administration.

While MPR leaders have ruled out the likelihood of turning the gathering into an emergency session that could set off an impeachment process, the Assembly will have an opportunity to scrutinize the report and the performance of the President.

The threat of an impeachment has not disappeared completely as the MPR is about to give itself additional power to take the initiative to call for an emergency session instead of waiting for the House of Representatives as the current rules state.

Abdurrahman, who became Indonesia's first democratically elected president in 45 years in October, delivered an off-the- cuff remark before Marsilam took the podium to read the report.

In the report, he said the job of leading the nation out of its problems was not solely his and the administration's.

"Through this great gathering, we are being tested if whether all of us, particularly leaders and the political elite, can build a new spirit of unity and togetherness," he said.

Abdurrahman laid out his vision of the New Indonesia as a society which is in peace, tolerance and harmony, where people can find justice, human rights and freedom, and enjoy a higher level of prosperity and live in peace, calm and order.

He likened Indonesia to a big ship cruising on a great ocean.

"Besides having to know where we are, where we are sailing to and where we are stopping, we have to fully comprehend the condition of our ship and the obstacles and natural challenges, so that our ship will not only reach its destination safely, but it will also move smoothly, rapidly and appropriately.

"So it is with the journey of this big nation in building a more stable, democratic and prosperous future," he said.

The President said Indonesia was still in a transition period, making it very prone to crisis and instability.

The end of the New Order regime of former president Soeharto led to emotional outbursts and disorderliness resulting from the accumulation of people's discontent. "That was the psychological condition at the start of the journey of this government."

He said the biggest problem during the transition period was the presence of "traits of national disintegration" which emerged from social conflicts, separatist movements and increasing anarchy, crime and violent acts in society.

"They lead to restlessness and cut off people's feeling of security. The desire to invest falls, unemployment rises and social prosperity plunges, especially in areas affected by unrest."

The condition has been made worse by conflicts and a constant power struggle among the nation's leaders, he said.

He outlined the five points of his administration's agenda: building a democratic political system and maintaining unity and cohesion; upholding law supremacy and a clean government; speeding up economic recovery and laying the foundation for a sustainable and just development; improving people's welfare and cultural resilience; and strengthening regional development.

The President said the legitimacy his government won through the democratic election last year did not guarantee that it could reduce the political tension and conflicts inherited from the past.

He laid the blame partly on society for its lack of patience and failure to help create a more conducive environment.

"While a desire for democracy has advanced, some people do not have the patience to wait for the institutionalization of democracy. As a result, we see many substantial deviations.

"Democracy is reduced to a mere demonstration, law supremacy makes way for trials by the people, and regional autonomy is distorted through demands and actions to take control over sources of government income in the regions."

The security apparatus, in trying to deal with violent acts, often becomes the target of condemnation.

"Let us all understand one thing: freedom without orderliness, obedience to the Constitution, law and ethics is not really a democracy but an anarchy." (prb/emb)