Sat, 27 Jul 1996

Megawati defies military ban

JAKARTA (JP): The ousted leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), Megawati Soekarnoputri, has defied the military's ban on the controversial free speech forum at the party headquarters.

She told about 500 of her supporters gathered at her home in the southern suburbs yesterday that the forum was needed to help promote democracy in Indonesia.

"Giving the people the opportunity to express their own opinions in a free speech forum is an important part of political education for the public," she said.

The Armed Forces have repeatedly threatened to disperse the forum that attracts huge crowds daily on the grounds that her loyalists have been using it to espouse propaganda meant to "overthrow the government" and disrupt public order.

The latest warning came from Jakarta military Commander Maj. Gen. Sutiyoso on Thursday, shortly after President Soeharto met Soerjadi, who was elected PDI chief in a government-backed rebel congress last month.

The forum, which has been held since Soerjadi was elected on June 22, paused only on Thursday.

The daily free speech forum resumed at the PDI's headquarters yesterday, starting at mid-day and ending at 5 p.m.. It featured legislator Sukowaluyo Mintorahardjo and local party leaders. They took to the stage expressing their rejection of the congress.

Mangara Siahaan, a Megawati supporter, told reporters yesterday that he had asked loyal Megawati supporters to continue the free speech forum, as Megawati had ordered.

Asked why the free speech forum stopped temporarily on Thursday, Mangara said that it was due to some "technical problems."

Megawati -- who was elected PDI chairwoman by popular vote in an extraordinary congress in Surabaya in December 1993 -- claimed yesterday that she was still the legitimate chief of the PDI.

Megawati, who is a daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno, claimed that she still had the support of most PDI members.

Soerjadi met the President on Thursday, which political observers say is the official seal of approval of his election as the new PDI chairman.

Head of PDI's Research and Development Department Kwik Kian Gie, a Megawati loyalist, challenged her critics to prove who was the legitimate PDI leader in court.

"Megawati will go on running the party's daily activities as usual," Kwik said yesterday in a discussion on the PDI internal conflict held by the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI).

He said that President Soeharto recognized Megawati as the party's legitimate chairwoman for the 1993-1998 period when she met the President in 1994.

Megawati filed a multi-billion dollar lawsuit at the Central Jakarta District Court on July 4, demanding that the court nullify the rebel congress and its results, declaring her the legitimate PDI leader. The lawsuit's hearing is scheduled to start on Aug. 1.

At the ISAI seminar, political observers Arief Budiman and Matori Abdul Djalil said that the PDI's internal conflict had developed into a national conflict.

"It is no longer Megawati's problem. It is already the nation's problem," Arief said.

"What we need now is a synergy of elements of power to fight for democracy in Indonesia," Matori added.

Separately, Megawati's team of defense lawyers reiterated yesterday their plan to file lawsuits against participants of the rebel congress.

Max Junus Lamuda, one of the lawyers, said in a press conference that he did not believe President Soeharto's recognition of Soerjadi would resolve the problem.

He said that so far Soerjadi had not won support of the people but only the government. "What is the point of chairing a party without its members' support?"

"This is the first time in the history of Indonesia that people have filed a storm of lawsuits across the country to challenge a government policy," Max said.

The press conference was also attended by the team's chairwoman Amartiwi Saleh, deputy chairman R.O. Tambunan, House member Sukowaluyo Mintorahardjo and some executives of the PDI's Jakarta branches.

R.O. Tambunan said the PDI branches in East Java, North Sumatra and South Sulawesi had sent authoritative letters to their respective Legal Aid Institutes, asking them to represent them for their lawsuits.

Amartiwi Saleh said the military's plan to help take over the party headquarters from Megawati supporters meant that the military disrespected the judicial authority of the court.

"The decision on whether the headquarters should be handed over to Megawati or Soerjadi should be left to the court," Amartiwi said. (imn/16)

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