Mon, 24 Apr 2000

Respect differences of opinion: Gus Dur

SURABAYA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid called on the nation to respect differences of opinion in order to facilitate democracy.

Speaking on Sunday in front of a mass gathering of some 100,000-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) civilian guards known as Banser, Abdurrahman also called his widely publicized dispute with People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais "a logical consequence in the exercise of democracy".

"If we are to be democrats we must be able to cope with our differences, remain level-headed and respectful, and not blindly attack each other," said Abdurrahman, influential patron of NU, the country's largest Muslim organization. It has 40 million supporters.

Abdurrahman was responding to previous strong criticism towards Amien Rais in a mass prayer Istighotsah earlier in the day made by NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi and NU law making body Syuriah leader Mustofa Bisri, better known as Gus Mus.

Both Hasyim and Mustofa denounced Amien's statements and his earlier suggestion that a special session be held before the August MPR general session asking for Abdurrahman's accountability following his intention to have the ban on communist teaching lifted.

The ban was endorsed by the Assembly when it was a provisional body in 1966.

Amien later retracted his statement and said there had been no plan to hold an Assembly special session to ask for the President's accountability unless he violated the Constitution or the MPR decrees.

"I'm the one who is being attacked everyday but I'm not mad. So why have you gotten so angry? I never got upset or rebuffed such a motion. I take it as a result of having different opinions," Abdurrahman said, expressing his regret that the mass prayer turned to be "a venue to express anger".

"I heard the previous speakers (Hasyim and Mustofa) speech, then I thought that it had turned into a blast to Pak Amien.

"Well, this is funny. An Istighotsah prayer is not supposed to turn into anger, isn't it? I think the first thing that Gus Mus has to learn here is to be patient," Abdurrahman said jokingly.

Abdurrahman, or Gus Dur as he is popularly called, contended that the differences between him and Amien were normal, just like a teacher and a student. "Take it easy," he said.

During the gathering, meant to commemorate the 66th anniversary of NU's youth wing the GP Ansor, Abdurrahman also stressed that it was okay for the government to disagree with NU.

"If necessary, government opinion can go against NU. Crossed views are a must in a democracy. If I say 'A', feel free to say 'B' and I hope NU sticks with its stance, not the other way around," Abdurrahman, who led NU for 15 years before being elected president last October, said.

Some NU members are now joining Abdurrahman's Cabinet and strategic posts in the House of Representatives and MPR.

He also reminded NU followers to be cautious in dealing with various differences in an Islamic way, which stresses the need for patience.

"The trial comes in various forms, such as mass strikes, protests, violence, or making senseless statements, as well as internal and external pressures.

"The only way to deal with it is by being patient and by embracing it with smiles. It is very dangerous if the people can no longer smile in facing life," Abdurrahman remarked.

The event also witnessed Hasyim and Ansor chief Syaifullah Yusuf vowing the groups' strong commitment to supporting the President and his policies.

"We are ready to face every unconstitutional and violent movement aimed at shaking the legitimate government," Syaifullah said, referring to groups such as Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force) that reportedly intended to wage a holy war in Maluku.

Among the attendees at the gathering at the Brawijaya Military Command field were Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Admiral Widodo A.S., Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab, Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hasan, PKB chairman Matori Abdul Djalil, Taufik Kiemas, Minister of Manpower Bomer Pasaribu and noted folk and country musician Frankie Sahilatua.

After attending the prayer, Abdurrahman was slated to pay tribute to the grave of Kyai As'ad Syamsul Arifin, a renowned leader of Asem Bagus Islamic Boarding School in Situbondo, East Java. (nur/edt)