Thu, 03 Aug 2000

President must be given chance to improve

JAKARTA (JP): While calling for a tighter rein on President Abdurrahman Wahid due to his glaring flaws which have come to the fore in the past 10 months, scholars warned that replacing him now would be politically more costly to the nation.

Respected Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid warned that there was no guarantee Abdurrahman's alternative would be any better or could bring about a better situation for the country.

Therefore, while finding the best way to correct a bad habit, it would be better to give the President a chance to improve his performance, Nurcholish said.

"In my view, the cost of accepting the current condition is still much, much more bearable than setting a precedent that we are not loyal to the Constitution," Nurcholish said in reference to suggestions of possibly removing the President.

"We may have to learn to live with Gus Dur," Nurcholish said during a discussion, held by The Jakarta Post at the Borobudur Hotel on Wednesday to mark the launching of the book Questioning Gus Dur.

The 249-page book of essays about the President from various prominent observers along with a few notable articles on Abdurrahman published in the newspaper, is an updated and revised edition of Understanding Gus Dur, which was launched earlier this year.

During Wednesday's discussion, Nurcholish did not widely elaborate on the best solutions to end Abdurrahman's leadership crisis. Nevertheless, he remarked on the empowerment of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri as one probable solution.

Nurcholish said Megawati deserved to play a key role in the government, because her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), gained the highest vote in the general election.

"The Vice President must be more active because she also has strong legitimacy," he said.

Other guest speakers during Wednesday's discussion were political scientist Mochtar Pabotinggi of the National Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and noted economist Sjahrir.

Senior journalist and former Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Sabam Siagian moderated the seminar.

Budiman Soedjatmiko, the chairman of the Democratic People's Party (PRD), and labor activist Dita Indah Sari used the opportunity from the floor not only to slam the President, but also to warn of threats from the military and pro-status quo groups.

Budiman charged that political parties, including the Golkar Party and the "axis force", were trying to hold the President "hostage" so he bows to their political whims.

"Once he no longer abides by their orders, they will try to oust him," Budiman claimed.

Abdurrahman's second daughter, Yenny Zannuba Rahman, who was present during the discussion patiently listened to the sharp criticisms against her father.


Mochtar Pabotinggi maintained that while Abdurrahman may be incompetent he should remain as the head of state with his presidential powers reduced to a symbolic role.

Mochtar, however, disagreed with the suggestion to appoint either Megawati, the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais or the House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung as the country's top executive.

He said these three individuals were no less incompetent than Abdurrahman.

"The most important thing is to end the uncertainty, because if this continues, pro-status quo and antireform groups will become the eventual winners in this chaos," he said.

Sjahrir, however, disputed Mochtar's proposal to limit the President's powers.

Sjahrir said it was unimaginable for a person like Abdurrahman to accept the reality that he would only play a ceremonial role.

"It is impossible for Gus Dur to accept such a bitter condition," he said.

Sjahrir said after the Assembly's Annual Session, which begins next week, the President should form a more credible and professional Cabinet.

He stressed that it was also important for Abdurrahman to stop his stubbornness and follow his economic policymakers' advice.

"A market embracing government must be formed without ignoring the power of the existing political interests," Sjahrir noted.

In Sjahrir's opinion, not only was the President at fault over the past months but also legislators.

He said House members had been aggressive in probing the recent State Logistics Agency (Bulog) Rp 35 billion scandal which allegedly involved the President.

However, in comparison, the legislators seemed deaf when there were reports of alleged corruption for about Rp 190 billion disclosed by the recently removed Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) chief Lt. Gen. Agus Wirahadikusumah.

"Why did they just remain silent with the Kostrad case although the amount is so much higher than the Bulog case?" Sjahrir said. (prb)