Wed, 02 Aug 2000

Top leaders agree to ease political tension

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The country's top figures agreed on Tuesday to ease political hostility ahead of the Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) and renewed their commitment to the reform movement.

Brokered by Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, the meeting brought together President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri, MPR Speaker Amien Rais and House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung.

They released a joint statement after the 90-minute informal, closed-door meeting hosted by the sultan at the Gedong Jene hall, but failed to attend a planned news conference that would have implied their unity.

Megawati was the first to leave, saying nothing to waiting journalists on her way out.

Abdurrahman said later: "She left early to visit Bung Karno's grave in Blitar. She was afraid it would be too late to visit it," the President said, referring to founding president Sukarno, who was Megawati's father.

Amien also left quickly as he wanted to see his ailing mother in Surakarta, about 60 kilometers east of here.

Abdurrahman paid a courtesy call on the head of Yogyakarta's other monarchy, Paku Alam IX, at his residence near the sultanate, before flying back to Jakarta. Akbar was the first to arrive, and the last to leave the palace.

The four figures hailed the atmosphere of the meeting, which was the first to be attended by all of them after two earlier delays.

"It was held in a very friendly atmosphere," Akbar said.

Amien, a harsh critic of Abdurrahman, said their talks at the meeting focused on economic recovery, security and disintegration threats.

"These are big problems the nation is facing and they must be settled quickly," he said.

The President denied that there was any trouble during their discussion.

"Problems are always there, aren't they," he said.

When asked to comment on the heated political tension, the President said: "All parties, Mas Amien, Mas Akbar, Mbak Megawati, the sultan and I, are of the same opinion -- that the MPR Annual Session will be an annual meeting and no more than that."

The four figures said they agreed to reunite in an endeavor to calm widespread political tension ahead of the MPR Annual Session.

"We agreed to reunite in the spirit of togetherness with all the nation's components to maintain the country's territorial unity," the leaders said in their joint statement read by GBPH Joyokusumo, the sultan's younger brother and the event's committee chairman.

In the statement, the four figures realized the rising conflict among the elite would not benefit efforts to improve people's welfare and their unity was badly needed to overcome the nation's problems.

They also agreed that greater priority should be given to the people's worsening socioeconomic condition.

The figures called on all sides to appreciate all concrete actions taken by the government and other state institutions that will lead the reform agenda to success.

They also saw the necessities of investigating corruption cases and combating corrupt, collusive and nepotistic practices required to ensure the supremacy of law.

The four figures were eventually brought together in the informal meeting after failing to do so twice last month. Megawati skipped the first meeting in Jakarta on July 6 and the second planned meeting, scheduled for July 12, also in Jakarta, was canceled after she backed out.

Tuesday's informal meeting was greeted by a demonstration staged by some 40 Muslim students who accused the four top political figures of breaching the spirit of the reform movement and the mandates they received following their democratic election.

Farhan Helmi, who coordinated the rally, said the nation was heading for a political system that was determined by a few figures. They said the reform movement should empower all state institutions, especially the House and the Assembly. (44/swa/rms)