Sat, 16 Dec 2000

Popular support needed to stay put

For an ordinary politician who knows that popular support after a year or two in power is waning, it is usually a signal to step down from office. For an "extraordinary" politician, from a background with clerical roots, like Abdurrahman Wahid, there seems to be a greater challenge to turn the tide.

He does not feel morally obliged to seriously listen to his critics, who demand that he step down for breaching many laws and cover-ups of financial dealings, as well as political incompetence, including his tactless handling of diplomatic affairs.

His argument remains the same; he has never wanted to be the president of the country. The job was imposed on him by the People's Consultative Assembly, and its Speaker Amien Rais should be equally responsible for any failure in choosing the wrong person.

One thing Abdurrahman Wahid is sure of is that his overseas travels have boosted Indonesia's economic image and that investors are simply getting impatient to invest their money in spite of the prevailing conditions of domestic instability.

Now he is planning to visit Australia and New Zealand, ignoring the fact that these two countries are not the most friendly towards Indonesian foreign policy whims under Abdurrahman Wahid, such as opening trade ties with Israel, which is also unacceptable to most Muslims in this country.

Most serious conditions will be created if Abdurrahman Wahid also ignores the voices of discontent which have led to separatist movements in Aceh and Papua (Irian Jaya), and fails to resolve the protracting issues by indulging himself in making controversial and inconsistent remarks, such as those made about the Papuan cultural flag.

Maybe, as some analysts claim, his physical handicap has become the greatest stumbling block in getting a clear and balance view of what is going on around him.

Although the cries for Abdurrahman Wahid to step down are getting louder at the end of the year, the new year will likely see him stay put. The government should produce more tangible results in caring for the less fortunate and in pushing ahead with its welfare programs, such as in education, employment, health etc., if it does not want to be accused by history of abusing power and wasting time and resources.