Tue, 06 Mar 2001

Observers cautious over Friday political meeting

JAKARTA (JP): Observers were cautious in their assessment of a meeting on Friday between representatives of major political parties, including several Islamic-based parties, warning that it may be a fleeting coalescence to court Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri for the parties' respective short-term gains.

Bara Hasibuan urged Megawati to remain wary of the purported political support, saying it was probably not sincere.

"There is a possibility that Megawati is only being exploited for the sake of immediate interests, and afterward will be left out once she is no longer useful to them," said Bara here on Monday.

Bara, who recently resigned from the National Mandate Party (PAN), where he was a member of the executive board, pointed out that several parties that took part in Friday's meeting and exclaimed their support for Megawati were the same ones that led the battle against her during the presidential election in 1999.

He suggested that the show of support for Megawati was momentary and politically motivated, with the primary aim of toppling President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Islamic-based political parties claimed during the 1999 presidential election it was unacceptable for a woman to become president.

Leading figures of PAN, the United Development Party (PPP), the Justice Party (PK), the Crescent Star Party (PBB), Golkar Party and the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) met here on Friday to show their support for Megawati as the immediate successor to Abdurrahman.

While it is not known if any political agreement was reached, the meeting was the first clear public display of a possible political alliance to propel Megawati, who leads PDI Perjuangan, to the presidency.

Both Bara and the National Awakening Party (PKB) warned that several Islamic-based political parties have not retracted their statements rejecting the possibility of a woman president.

Separately, Golkar Party chairman Akbar Tandjung and PPP chairman Hamzah Haz, after attending prayers for the Islamic Day of Sacrifice on Monday, said that if Megawati was to succeed Abdurrahman, it had to be done constitutionally.

"Golkar always respects the law and the Constitution. It is clear in the Constitution that the vice president should replace the president if necessary," Akbar said.

Hamzah underlined that in an "emergency" situation it would be acceptable for a woman to lead the country, for a certain period of time.

"We support the Constitution ... at least she can be president until the end of the term in 2004," he said.

When asked if he supported Megawati, Hamzah said: "Well, yes, because we support the Constitution."

Turning point

The meeting on Friday between the leaders of six influential political parties in Jakarta has received mixed reactions from political observers.

Ichlasul Amal from Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University said on Saturday the meeting was a show of force to the public that Muslim political parties and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) no longer supported Abdurrahman Wahid's presidency.

Amal said the meeting was significant, describing it as a turning point in the stance of Muslim political parties, as they were the parties behind Abdurrahman's election as president in 1999.

"They held the meeting to weaken Gus Dur's legitimacy," he told The Jakarta Post, referring to the President by his nickname.

Amal said the presence of Taufik Kiemas, the husband of PDI Perjuangan chairwoman and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, at the meeting was to show the public that not all PDI Perjuangan factions supported Abdurrahman's leadership.

He, however, predicted that the gathering would not generate a permanent coalition between the six parties.

"As long as it gives equal benefit to all parties the coalition will continue, but after they achieve their goal the coalition will be dissolved."

Leaders of PDI Perjuangan, the Golkar Party, the United Development Party, the National Mandate Party, the Justice Party and the Crescent Star Party met at Al Azhar Mosque in South Jakarta on Friday in an apparent move to express their support for Megawati.

Pratikno, Amal's colleague at Gadjah Mada University, warned, however, that the meeting could hamper democracy in the country.

"The meeting may have resulted in an agreement among the leaders over some political concessions which could be another setback for the reform agenda and democracy.

"I suspect that through the meeting, the 'old political players' will seek impunity for their past sins and an opportunity to rule the country again," he said on Friday.

Separately, a political observer from the National Institute of Sciences, Syamsuddin Harris, said the meeting showed strong signs of political bargaining, suggesting that if Megawati replaces Gus Dur, she may have to accommodate the interests of other political elements.

"It (the meeting) was just a reminder to Mega that if she fails to accommodate their (political parties') interests in ruling the country, she would just meet a similar fate to that of Gus Dur," Syamsuddin told the Post on Saturday.

He said the presence of PAN chairman Amien Rais, who is also the speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), was controversial because he had to sit alongside Taufik Kiemas, who is of a "lower rank" than him.

"I don't think that Mega wanted to meet Amien, who prevented her from becoming president in 1999.

"But I guess Amien just did not realize it," Syamsuddin said.

Syamsuddin called the meeting counterproductive because it showed that the political parties were not confident that the memorandum of censure issued by the House of Representatives could unseat the President.

"The constitutional mechanism is under way. If Gus Dur fails to improve his performance within the next three months, unseating the President in a MPR special session is just a matter of time," Syamsuddin said.

The House decided on Feb. 1 to accept the report of a special committee which linked the President to the embezzlement of Rp 35 billion (US$3.5 million) from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) and the unaccounted spending of a $2 million donation from the sultan of Brunei.

Meanwhile, a legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB), Ali Masykur Musa, said the meeting would not significantly influence the presidency, as changes to the national leadership should involve more people than just the political elite.

"If the parties used the meeting to find solutions to the nation's problems, just go ahead with it," Ali said on Saturday.

Ali, however, said that if there was no evidence proving the President was guilty of violating the Constitution, any effort to forcibly bring him down would only create a "dictatorship of the majority".

"Replacing the country's leader must be done through constitutional mechanisms. But there is no single article in the Constitution which serves as sufficient legal grounds to replace Gus Dur," he said. (02/44/dja)