Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Gus Dur's clamorous tour

President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is popularly called, is back home after a 16-day working tour which took him to Mid East, European and Asian countries.

During the trip, despite his frail health, the President energetically tried to boost bilateral economic cooperation, hoping to increase foreign investment in an effort to revitalize Indonesia's ailing economy.

Well-informed people here must be concluding that from economic and political point of views, the presidential tour has had a positive result. Not only have the leaders of the host countries showed a willingness to help Indonesia, but during the tour the President demonstrated that there is political stability in our country and that the former Muslim cleric-turned-national leader is the very leader Indonesia needs today in its struggle to establish a civil society.

Before his departure, there were rumors that a coup would be staged by frustrated Army generals. But Abdurrahman was confident that the majority of military leaders and the populace were behind him. In such a situation, he seemed to believe that no officers would be stupid enough to attempt to seize power because it would prove suicidal. When Abdurrahman arrived back home on the weekend, the rumors were proven to be a mere tempest in a tea cup.

During the tour, Abdurrahman, in his own peculiar style, even challenged the seemingly fragile situation by issuing a controversial order for Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. (ret) Wiranto to resign from his post in order to prepare for questioning by the Attorney General's Office. The general, who was the former military chief, has been implicated by the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in East Timor in the massacre and arson in the former Portuguese colony following the self-determination ballot last year. "Wiranto sure needs to relax to prepare for what lies ahead," he was quoted as saying.

The political situation at home suddenly became heated when the general, who is a loyalist of former president Soeharto, defied the President's order. The controversy worsened when the President not only repeated his call through the press, but also instructed Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono, who is Wiranto's direct subordinate, to reiterate the order. Wiranto flatly refused to acquiesce.

What Abdurrahman's actual intention was by demanding a resignation while he was abroad is not very clear. He may have been testing his authority, or his ability to create a sensation and his ability to end it. The presidential order confused many people, so much so that one seasoned military and political observer said it might be prudent to establish a special body to analyze Abdurrahman's controversial statements in order to avoid chaos.

He might be right, but on almost all occasions Abdurrahman has been able to solve the problems he created himself. When, only weeks after he was elected by the People's Consultative Assembly, he embarked on his first foreign tour to Southeast Asian countries, he was severely criticized in many circles. He was branded an insensitive leader because the November visit was not relevant to the political situation at home. At the time the danger of national disintegration was very real. They said he should have visited Aceh, where separatist groups were waging an armed rebellion, and Maluku, where sectarian violence had claimed so many lives.

But Abdurrahman remained determined. His move later proved justifiable because economic healing does not tolerate delay, and later it became obvious that the trouble in the two restive provinces would take months or perhaps years to solve.

Hopefully Abdurrahman will land on both feet again this time.