Mon, 15 May 2000

NU chief Hasyim supportingly critical of President Abdurrahman

JAKARTA (JP): Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi criticized President Abdurrahman Wahid's inner circle palace aides for their incompetence in establishing an effective public relations campaign for the President.

Without naming any officials, Hasyim said the presidential aides had failed to manage the flow of information from the palace which often triggered unnecessary confusion and controversy among the people, damaging relationships with other political leaders.

While conceding that Abdurrahman himself was often too frank when making statements, he pointed out that due to the President's vision problems, Abdurrahman needed a strong team to provide him with true and honest input.

Officials must arrange Abdurrahman's public relations wisely and give him good advice before making public statements, Hasyim insisted.

"Publicity for the President's activities and statements must be well arranged to prevent a negative impact on the government and society. This is the responsibility of Setneg (State Secretariat)," Hasyim said in an interview with The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Hasyim expressed his astonishment that secret information from the palace was often leaked to the media or the public.

Hasyim pointed how, that many secret policies were often leaked to the public even before the President announced them.

"It is the responsibility of the State Secretariat to classify disclosures as on-the-record or off-the-record. Now it often happens that Gus Dur is considering a certain decision but it is published in the media even before the decision is taken," Hasyim said.

He warned officials to fully realize the President's physical shortcomings.

Hasyim said he had no intention to restrict press freedom, but he wanted to be sure that the President fully realizes that his every word is being closely monitored.

"Sometimes Gus Dur talks at the palace without knowing whether journalists are present or not," said the chairman of the 35 million member-organization.

Under the current line-up, the President has four ministerial- level secretaries.

The President, through several decrees including decree No. 58 and decree No 60 issued last month, has upgraded the status of Cabinet Secretary Marsilam Simajuntak, Secretary of Development Supervision Bondan Gunawan, and Presidential Secretary Djoko Mulyono to ministerial level.

Bondan is widely expected in coming months to hand over his position as acting state secretary to Djohan Efendi, who currently works as the Ministry of Religious Affairs' research and development center head.

Hasyim, who was previously East Java's NU leader before replacing Abdurrahman as NU national leader in November, acknowledged that along with other senior ulemas he had advised the President on Monday to refrain from making unnecessary statements.

"We advised him to reduce his speaking engagements," he said.

Hasyim also noted that careless statements often worsen the President's relationship with other political leaders, including Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

He indicated that Megawati was irritated with Abdurrahman's recent decision to sack Laksamana Sukardi from the Cabinet.

"Their previously smooth relationship was slightly disturbed, but substantially the relationship between Gus Dur and Megawati is inseparable," he insisted.

Meanwhile, Roeslan Abdulgani, a noted veteran diplomat, said Gus Dur's government would not collapse if he sticks to the constitution and the law. But it would be even better if he stops making confusing statements, Roeslan added.

He said all the presidential aides and people around Abdurrahman should be helpful because of the president's physical condition.

"They know that the president's eyes do not function well, they should not whisper strange things to him that eventually raises confusion among the people," he said.

Sri Edie Swasono, an expert at the Finance Ministry, expressed his concern over Gus Dur's health following his strange statements over the last three weeks.

"Over the last three weeks, he's lost his sense of humor. He needs to be relaxed in running his government and in expressing his ideas and statements," he said. (prb/rms)