Sat, 12 Aug 2000

President empasizes he is still in charge

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid played down on Friday his decision to hand over the day-to-day running of the government to Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, saying that he was still in charge.

With the debate rolling on at the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) over whether to issue a decree to regulate the job-sharing arrangement, Abdurrahman's National Awakening Party (PKB) was quick to warn it would walk out of the MPR Annual Session now underway if the Assembly sought to make the proposal into a binding decree.

Speaking to a gathering of senior leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim organization, Abdurrahman said that what had been handed over to Megawati was only the running of the day-to- day technicalities of the government and not the overall authority for it.

He said that Megawati would be helped by a coordinating minister in her new jobs.

"There is still some confusion about this, so I want to stress here that what has been handed over to the Vice President is not authority but duties," Abdurrahman, who chaired NU for 15 years before being elected as president last year, said.

"The authority remains in the President's hands," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Ihza Mahendra announced on the President's behalf that sharing some of the presidential workload did not change in anyway the president's status as both head of state and head of government.

In his response to the MPR factions' general comments on his administration on Wednesday, Abdurrahman said he would charge Megawati with the daily tasks of government, drawing up the Cabinet agenda and establishing the focus and priorities of government.

"Thank God that Mbak Megawati and the MPR leadership have accepted this," Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, said on Friday.

Megawati, who chairs the country's largest party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), has not made any comment so far on her new role. Many analysts have said that it remains to be seen whether she is capable of doing her duty.

Abdurrahman claimed that he had been informed that the Assembly had agreed that it was not necessary to formalize the work-sharing arrangement between himself and the Vice President.

"When I left for Banjarmasin (on Thursday) we found out that 80 percent of the MPR factions had said they would not go ahead with the MPR decree idea.

"Thank God, I checked again and actually all the factions have said they would not back the issuance of such a decree," he said.

He warned legislators on Thursday against meddling in executive affairs by trying to regulate his plan to share his workload with Megawati.

The President said that he would issue a presidential decree on Megawati's new role and "reshuffle and restructure" the Cabinet sometime after the MPR annual meeting, which ends on Aug. 18.

The Assembly's decision on whether to formalize the President and Vice President's work-sharing arrangement will be discussed by the Commission C assigned with assessing the progress reports presented by the state's high institutions. The deliberation starts on Saturday.

"We oppose the issue being discussed in the Assembly's Commission C," Reform faction member Hatta Radjasa said at the commission's first meeting.

The PKB faction threatened to quit the MPR annual session if the Assembly set its sights on issuing a decree on the issue, saying it was against the Constitution.

"We will not participate in the decision-making process, nor be responsible for any decree that is against the Constitution. We may walk out of the session if it happens," Yusuf Muhammad, chairman of the PKB faction told a media conference.

Some members of PDI Perjuangan faction spoke of the necessity of the Assembly decree, while the Golkar Party faction said it was enough for the President to regulate it in a presidential decree.

Zulvan Lindan, a member of the PDI Perjuangan faction, said the Assembly had to issue a decree stipulating Megawati's new job.

"The President's pledge cannot be considered a ruling because he is not firm in his stances. And his stand on the this matter could change from one day to the next," he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Amien Aryoso, another PDI Perjuangan legislator, said the Assembly could insert the delegation of duty from the President to the Vice President in the decree on the Assembly's recommendations to the government.

Hartono Mardjono of the Crescent Star Party declined to comment, saying his faction was undecided on that matter.

"Our faction will support what the commission says," he said.

Endin Achmad Jalaluddin Soefihara of the United Development Party (PPP) faction said if the decree was issued, both the President and Vice President should make a progress report to the Assembly's next annual meeting.

"If Megawati fails to manage the administration, the Assembly will have two knives to cut at both Gus Dur and Mega in the next Annual Session," he warned. (byg/dja/rms/jun)