Thu, 20 Jul 2000

Who's to blame?

For months Indonesians have been led to believe that most, if not all, of this country's present economic and political troubles are caused by squabbles among the political elite. That assumption is disputed by Akbar Tandjung, the chairman of the Golkar Party who is also speaker of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Indonesian legislature.

In a scathing attack contained in a speech delivered before thousands of Golkar supporters on the occasion of the opening of the party's leadership meeting at the Jakarta Convention Center on Tuesday evening, Akbar instead blamed President Abdurrahman Wahid for causing this country's afflictions.

"The nation actually had high expectations that the election of Abdurrahman Wahid as President would lead the country out of the crisis. But during the course of its journey, this credible and legitimate government has failed to correctly interpret the message that was mandated by the State Policy Guidelines (GBHN)," Akbar said to the cheers of thousands of Golkar supporters in the Convention Hall auditorium.

"The government has issued controversial statements and policies which have been prone to create instability and political uncertainties that in the end will make economic recovery even more difficult," Akbar said, citing the dismissal of two Cabinet ministers, Laksamana Sukardi and Yusuf Kalla, by the President in April, and his plan to revoke the 34-year-old ban on communism as specific examples of the President's inconsistencies.

"What has been even more worrying," according to the Golkar chairman, "is that there are indications that certain parties are trying to shift the blame to (bickering among) the political parties, whereas the real problem is the President's inconsistency."

There is no doubt that making controversial and inconsistent statements and actions have been among President Abdurrahman Wahid's most glaring shortcomings in the nine months that he has been in power.

While traveling abroad, he has accused several Cabinet ministers of corruption and dismissed some without proof or trial. Certainly, they have been among the major causes of the doubts and confusion that is causing investors to take a wait-and-see attitude before investing their money in Indonesia.

He told the media that some of the "culprits" who have been stoking the unrest in Maluku and elsewhere "are in the People's Consultative Assembly" (MPR) and would soon be arrested. He later retracted the statement, telling reporters not to "twist" his statements.

So much for Abdurrahman's inconsistencies. True as they are though, it is not entirely proper either for the country's political elite to wash their hands of the responsibility for causing the present doubt and concern that is putting a spoke in the wheel of economic recovery. In the first place, Abdurrahman Wahid was elected President by some of those who are now his harshest critics -- people who pretty well know, or should have known, his frail physical condition at the time he was elected. For those people to put the blame of the country's condition entirely on the President's shoulders seems rather unfair, to say the least.

Second, it seems that it is not only Abdurrahman Wahid who is being inconsistent. Just two days before Akbar Tandjung made his speech at the Golkar's leadership meeting on Tuesday, all 11 factions in the People's Consultative Assembly agreed in a joint statement to reduce the mounting political tension ahead of the annual General Session of the Assembly. Certainly, renewing attacks on the President does not serve that purpose.

Speculation is rife in Jakarta at present that some factions in the Assembly could still try to unseat the President in the upcoming session in August, despite the fact that such a move is considered unlikely by many. The hidden purpose of such an act, supposedly, could be to make Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri president and to appoint a new vice president.

Since under the Constitution the vice president automatically becomes president in the case the latter is incapacitated -- or is unseated the next year or the year after that -- such a scenario would provide a solid power foothold for whichever party benefits from the move.

Little wonder investors are opting to wait and see how things turn out. As for this country's politicians, we once again urge them to make every effort to turn themselves into real statesmen, for the sake of this long-suffering country. It is their wisdom and statesmanship that will shape the fate of more than 200 million Indonesians.