Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Megawati returns to political debate

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri chose to remain silent about the many awaiting problems upon arrival at the country on Saturday, from a two-week overseas trip to Europe.

Amid questions of the importance of her trip, none of the presidential entourage was sent to talk to awaiting journalists at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in East Jakarta.

Upon arrival, Megawati was greeted by Vice President Hamzah Haz, Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and the chiefs of staff of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti and National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar also greeted Megawati at the airport.

Governor Sutiyoso, in traditional Betawi dress, also took time to greet the President even though he was slated to open the Jakarta anniversary celebration later on Saturday.

Several journalists whispered that Sutiyoso would rather be late to open the ceremony than not greet Megawati ahead of the Jakarta gubernatorial election.

Megawati held a five-minute talk with Hamzah before getting in her car and leaving the airport.

Her arrival was delayed from 3 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. due to a routine stopover in Singapore, which Megawati invariably makes while on an overseas trip.

A presidential confidante, however, said the stopover was either to meet Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew or for a brief medical checkup.

But many have commented that it was the habit of the President to go shopping in Singapore.

Debates over a possible Cabinet reshuffle, voting rights for military personnel, the Jakarta gubernatorial election and the controversial bankruptcy ruling on the Canada-based Manulife insurance firm await Megawati's attention.

During the two-week trip, the President refrained from giving straight answers to explain her stance on and opinion of the issues.

In the last media conference in Slovakia on Friday, Megawati surprised people when she questioned the readiness of Indonesians for a direct presidential election.

"Can we comply with the rules and regulations of a direct presidential election?" she asked.

In a survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres Indonesia, 78 percent of the respondents wanted a direct presidential election.

The government claimed that the trip opened the possibility for Indonesia to find an alternative supplier of military equipment in Europe to overcome the U.S. military embargo on Indonesia.

The President has expressed an intention to buy several helicopters from Slovakia and other military equipment from Czech Republic.