Wed, 22 Jan 2003

House legislators reluctant to dismiss Akbar

Kurniawan Hari and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite the double blow inflicted by the courts, Akbar Tandjung can feel secure in his position as the speaker of the House of Representatives as there is still no real move to unseat him.

After the Central Jakarta District Court sentenced Akbar to three years in jail for graft last September, several legislators questioned the propriety of his retaining the top post in the legislative body. A number of legislators walked out of the plenary hall to protest Akbar's leadership.

A group of legislators also signed a petition demanding Akbar's suspension, a move that has so far been foiled by the absence of internal rules in the House regarding measures to unseat a speaker.

After the Jakarta High Court upheld Akbar's sentence last week, there was little noise heard from the House about the legitimacy of Akbar's leadership.

No legislators have renewed the demand that Akbar step down. Legislators, instead, chose to float a moral appeal for Akbar to relinquish his post.

"His (Akbar's) status has become a liability to the House. It would be better for him to declare himself non-active," said Asnawi Latif from the Daulatul Ummah Unity (PDU) faction here on Tuesday.

Fellow legislators Roy B.B. Janis and Ahmad Farhan Hamid from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) and Reform factions respectively, issued similar statements while not actually undertaking any moves against Akbar.

Roy, who chairs the PDI Perjuangan faction, emphasized that his faction had issued no instructions to its members regarding Akbar's fate in the House.

The Jakarta High Court upheld Akbar's conviction for misusing Rp 40 billion of State Logistics Agency (Bulog) funds. However, he remains free pending his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Those calls that have been heard for Akbar's dismissal have come not only from other political parties, but also from legislators from the Golkar Party, which Akbar chairs.

Marwah Daud Ibrahim from Golkar has been campaigning for Akbar's removal, saying his status as a convict would adversely affect both the House and the Golkar Party.

However, the chairman of Golkar faction in the legislative body, Marzuki Achmad, said the House's image was not determined solely by Akbar.

Golkar deputy chairman Fahmi Idris added that his party would propose an extraordinary congress to decide on Akbar's status as party chairman.

However, a senior leader of Golkar has already said that the party will keep Akbar as chairman.

"We will follow the official decision taken during the party's national meeting last year to maintain Akbar as chairman until there is a final legal decision in his case," Syamsul Mu'arif said on Tuesday.

"The party has decided that the national congress will take place in 2004 and until then Akbar will remain our chairman," said Syamsul, who is the State Minister for Communications and Information.

He acknowledged that there was a move by several party members to unseat Akbar, but so far the movement had little support.

"There will be another meeting of party leaders next month and we do not see any reason to expedite the congress. Until then we will follow the earlier decision to maintain Akbar," he said.

Akbar is seen as the leader who saved Golkar following the fall of former president and Golkar chief patron Soeharto.

"There are some suggestions that even if Akbar has to go to jail he will continue to lead the party from prison," Syamsul said.