Mon, 17 Apr 2000

President rebuffs his critics

By Budiman Moerdijat

HONG KONG (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid rebuffed his critics on Sunday, including People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais, and warned of a backlash against his political foes if they failed to back up their criticism.

"If we have strong reasons (for our policies) and the MPR (finally) decides to follow us, I'm afraid that in the end, he (Amien) is the one who will end up pinching his own ears," Abdurrahman told journalists in the presidential entourage during his flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong.

Abdurrahman was responding to a question about Amien's earlier statement that he would not hesitate "to pinch" the President's ears should the government veer off track in its policies.

"Sometimes those people just don't understand. They say that I am careless, but they're actually the ones who make reckless statements," Abdurrahman said.

When again asked to comment on remarks by politicians at home who wish to make the Assembly session in August into a forum to demand the President's accountability, Abdurrahman calmly said: "Go ahead, I have no problem with that, but I think (the process) will not be as easy as that".

Abdurrahman has maintained that the Assembly session in August is only meant to deliver a progress report on the government's work, not to serve as a special session to demand the President's accountability.

"People just talk, but they don't know what they're talking about and this makes me confused," he said.

The President is on a nine-day, five-nation tour that has included a stop in Cuba to participate in a developing world gathering from April 12 to April 14.

After a brief stop in Tokyo, Abdurrahman was in Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon to meet with a number of local businesspeople and Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. Abdurrahman was also due to address the Asia Society on Sunday evening.

The President is scheduled to fly back to Indonesia on Monday morning.

Abdurrahman has come under heavy criticism back home in recent weeks for his controversial statements, including his call to revoke a 24-year ban on communism. He said communism is protected by the Constitution, which it is his job to defend.

The ban was imposed in the wake of the abortive coup in 1965 blamed on the Indonesia Communist Party (PKI).


Commenting on his meeting with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Tokyo earlier in the day, Abdurrahman said he thanked the Japanese government for its support in rescheduling Indonesia's debts during the Paris Club meeting last week.

The President was originally scheduled to visit Mori's predecessor, ailing former prime minister Keizo Obuchi. However, the visit had to be canceled on the orders of Obuchi's doctors.

Mori reportedly assured Abdurrahman during his five-hour stopover that the recent political change in Tokyo would not affect Japanese aid to Indonesia.

A Japanese government official was quoted by AFP the premier as saying he would "not spare our assistance for the President's reform efforts".

Mori took power on April 5 in place of Obuchi, who was in a coma after suffering a stroke on April 2.

During the meeting at his official residence, Mori pledged his support for Jakarta's efforts to resolve separatist clashes in Aceh and sectarian violence in Maluku, the official said.

"We support the integrity of Indonesia's territory," Mori was quoted as telling Abdurrahman.

Mori said Japan would back Indonesia's reform efforts by hosting here later in the year another meeting of major aid donors to Jakarta.

In a donors meeting here last February, the Consultative Group on Indonesia pledged up to US$4.7 billion in new aid to help fund Indonesia's projected budget deficit.

Japan is the largest donor to Indonesia with a committed $1.56 billion, followed by the World Bank with $1.5 billion and the Asian Development Bank with $1.065 billion.

The state-run Japan Bank for International Cooperation said it had outstanding loans to Indonesia of $33.2 billion -- equal to half of Indonesia's state debt.

Abdurrahman and Mori also announced the lineup of a new advisory panel of Japanese and Indonesian experts.

The Japanese will be led by Nobuo Matsunaga, a foreign ministry adviser and former ambassador to the United States. Taufik Abdullah, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, will head the Indonesian experts.

The 10-member panel, called the Japan-Indonesia Advisory Network, plans to convene twice a year with their first meeting scheduled for July 3 in Jakarta, a joint statement said.