Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Rumors abound of political intrigue

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid returned from a nine-day foreign tour on Monday amid rumors of intensive backroom dealings between major political parties to try to remove him from office.

Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, came home to a different political atmosphere than the one he left behind on April 8 when he embarked on a trip that took him to South Africa, Mexico, Cuba, Japan and Hong Kong.

Abdurrahman proceeded directly to the presidential palace upon arrival at Halim Perdanakusuma air base. He made no statement upon his arrival, much to the disappointment of the hordes of journalists anxious for his comment on the new situation he found himself in after the foreign visit.

House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung and People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Amien Rais, however, toned down their statements, having earlier condoned calls for an emergency MPR session to scrutinize and possibly remove the President from office.

Gus Dur received on Monday a pledge of support from Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri who visited him at Merdeka Palace soon after his arrival.

A source close to the palace said that during the meeting, Megawati reiterated her loyalty to the President, dashing rumors that she had also been involved in some of the backroom political dealings to replace Gus Dur.

"She assured the President that she would never break her pledge to be his loyal partner under any circumstances," the source told The Jakarta Post.

The MPR is scheduled to hold its General Session in August, but there have been calls to either turn the meeting into an emergency session, or hold one earlier than scheduled, to put the President's record under scrutiny and possibly remove him from office.

Amien meanwhile called on the public to judge his criticism of the President as a part of his efforts to improve the government's performance, and not to undermine the government.

Amien said his National Mandate Party (PAN) and Muslim parties grouped under the Axis Force had no intention of moving to replace the President. "We (the Axis Force) don't play behind the scenes. We always state our opinions openly," he said.

Gus Dur and Amien have exchanged tirades through the media over the past week.

Amien attacked the President for his plan to lift the ban on communism, while Gus Dur accused Amien of making reckless political statements by condoning the calls for an MPR emergency meeting to review Gus Dur's performance.

The Islamic Crescent Star Party (PBB), one of the members of Amien's Axis Force, has already announced its intention to call for a special MPR meeting because of the President's plan to end the ban on communism.

Amien changed his tune on Monday, saying that the MPR's scheduled meeting in August would not be an occasion to ask for the President's accountability, but only to hear his progress report.

House Speaker Akbar made an about-face by throwing his support behind Gus Dur.

"Gus Dur was elected democratically. He should be supported," Akbar, who is also chairman of the Golkar Party, said.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) appeared ambivalent on the question of whether or not a special MPR meeting was necessary.

In Malang, East Java, TNI Chief of Territorial Affairs Lt. Gen. Agus Widjojo stressed that the military fully trusted the people's representatives and political elites to carry out the national political agenda, including the planned MPR session.

When asked if TNI would fully support the government, Agus said: "Let's see the procedures and the mechanisms. Everything will emerge at the coming MPR session."

Agus was in Malang for a highly publicized dialog between TNI top officers with leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim organization which Gus Dur chaired for 15 years until his election to the presidency in October.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto, considered a loyal Gus Dur supporter, separately renewed his support for the President.

"The Army will remain consistent in its support for Gus Dur and his legitimate government because he was elected through a democratic and valid election," Tyasno said in Jakarta when asked to comment on the call for an Assembly special session.

He said he did not see the need for the House to call for a MPR special session. "The President has not violated the Constitution or the state policy guidelines," he said, adding that Gus Dur's five-year term of office should be maintained.

"If Gus Dur goes, then according to the Constitution, he will be replaced by Vice President Megawati. If we are not satisfied with Megawati, then we can call for an MPR emergency session," he said.

Later, when he traveled to Malang, Tyasno stated that the military would stay out of politics and instead improve its professionalism.

Ichlasul Amal, rector of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said there were not enough grounds for the MPR to remove Abdurrahman from office.

"Under our presidential system, a president can only be impeached if he is involved in a crime, such as corruption," he said. (44/jun/nur/sur/prb/rms)