Tue, 08 Feb 2000

President asked to curtail his controversial statements

JAKARTA (JP): Politicians and observers here decried on Monday President Abdurrahman Wahid's habit of making controversial and often reckless statements during his overseas trips, saying this only served to cause needless confusion at home.

Political scientist Fachry Ali lamented Abdurrahman's trademark off-the-cuff banter.

"He makes these statements which don't ease existing tensions, but only create new ones," Fachry said during a discussion assessing Abdurrahman's presidency.

He noted the stream of denials which come out anytime Abdurrahman makes a statement.

Not known for his tact, Abdurrahman has made it a habit of blurting snap statements with little elaboration or evidence.

The latest round of criticism came after the President alleged during a visit to Rome on Sunday that there had been a plot in the mid-1990s to assassinate him and now Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

But on Monday, both Gen. (ret) Feisal Tanjung and Gen. Wiranto, the two people who allegedly knew of the assassination plot, denied ever discussing such a plot with the President.

Separately, House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung also called on Abdurrahman to be more careful of what he said during his overseas visits.

He said such careless remarks had a direct affect domestically, especially when the President was overseas.

"It's better for Gus Dur to curtail his controversial statements, which could disturb political stability here," Akbar said, referring to Abdurrahman by his nickname.

He said the remarks about the assassination plot and Feisal only added to the confusion at home.

Akbar pleaded for the President to refrain from making such remarks and simply concentrate on his tasks while overseas.

Akbar even suggested that the often confusing remarks made by the President were in part due to his physical handicap.

He said the fact that Abdurrahman was visually impaired contributed to his possible misinformation, as he was unable to read reports for himself.

"I hope Gus Dur will recheck all important information he receives from his assistants before publicly commenting on it," he said.

Many of the President's claims during his current overseas trip have been refuted the following day.

Leaders of the separatist Free Aceh Movement called Abdurrahman a liar after he said that a cease-fire had been hammered out between the rebels and the military during a secret meeting.

Indonesian Military officials also denied Abdurrahman's allegations that a covert meeting of generals had been held during the height of coup rumors in Jakarta.

Despite these perceived flaws, Fachry praised the President for his candor and bravery, particularly in challenging the military's supremacy in politics.

"On the plus side, he is the only civilian who dares stir the military's power," he remarked.

He conceded that much of Abdurrahman's moves were difficult to analyze as the President seemed to base his judgments purely on instinct.

Fachry pointed to the President's seemingly endless foreign tours as an example. "I don't understand why Gus Dur conducts these grand political visits abroad. He gets political support from abroad which allows him to arrest separatist tendencies, but doesn't really resolve the domestic issues at hand". (jun)