Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Gus Dur told to be patient on his critics

JAKARTA (JP): A senior Muslim cleric asked President Abdurrahman Wahid on Sunday to remain cool in response to his critics who had stepped up pressure for him to resign.

The President, popularly called Gus Dur, paid a courtesy visit to Sunan Drajat Islamic boarding school in Lamongan, East Java, and later admitted to have sought advice from the school's leader Abdul Ghofur on how to respond to the opposition against him.

Speaking before some 8,000 students of the school, Abdurrahman quoted Ghofur as saying that leading and keeping the unity of the nation was difficult and needed patience.

"Just keep quiet although you are punched by your friends," said Abdurrahman, himself a noted Muslim cleric when he led the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama for 15 years before being elected President last year.

He said patience has been a mainstay of Muslim preachers, including Sunan Drajat, in propagating Islam across Java island in the past.

"Only people from the Islamic boarding schools dare to give me advice, so that's why I came here," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

During his visit, the President held discussions with Ghofur, Hindu leader from India Tantri Vijayakalika, Indian Ambassador to Indonesia Muthu Venkataraman and Singaporean businessman Rafi Daran.

Among the President's entourage were first lady Sinta Nuriyah and Minister of National Education Yahya Muhaimin.

On the same day in Surabaya, the East Java capital, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who usually keeps silent, jumped to the defense of Abdurrahman and attacked the government's critics.

"To all those critics who frequently say the government is too slow in dealing with problems and not carrying out its duty, I want to ask, what have you done besides criticize?" Megawati told party supporters as reported by Reuters.

She warned her party's executives and supporters against joining the "chorus of criticism" created by certain members of the political elite.

Megawati, who was in Surabaya in her capacity as the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) chairwoman, was apparently answering criticisms made by politicians, including the People Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais who asked Abdurrahman Wahid to resign and be automatically replaced by her.

Amien who is chairman of the National Mandate Party is also leader of an alliance of Muslim-based parties known as the axis force in organizing support for Abdurrahman's presidency last year against Megawati.

Deputy chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Scholars Association (ICMI) Dawam Raharjo joined the chorus of those demanding Abdurrahman's resignation.

"Too many political mistakes have been made by Gus Dur causing the nation to return to crisis, instead of recovery," Dawam said in Padang, West Sumatra on Saturday.

He claimed that during the 17-month term of former president B.J. Habibie, the country's economy showed recovery, but it had weakened under the government of Abdurrahman.

House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung urged Abdurrahman to respond prudently to calls for his resignation, particularly by improving the work of his Cabinet, including correcting any past blunders.

Speaking in a local party function in Blora, Central Java, Akbar, who chairs Golkar Party, said the President should listen to criticism and respond with introspection.

"This is the best thing he can do because we want Gus Dur's government to serve out its term until 2004," he remarked, adding that if the people see improvement the criticism will cease.

But Akbar warned the President not to dare politicians to hold a special session of the People's Consultative Assembly to impeach him as it could cause a backlash and create support for such a proceeding.

Responding to legislators apparently disgruntled by the government's performance, Gus Dur dared the House to call for a special session on Friday, saying he was not worried by the prospect.

Meanwhile, former Cabinet minister Emil Salim decried calls for Abdurrahman's resignation, saying that restoring the economy was a far more crucial agenda than toppling the President.

Emil called on political leaders to end their bickering and to reconcile as such controversy was doing the nation no good. (jun/har)