Muslim leader calls for national dialogue


The leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim body offers to mediate among the various groups in and outside govt who want a say in shaping the country.

A LEADING Muslim scholar has called for an urgent dialogue between national leaders inside and outside the Indonesian government to prevent anarchy.

The chairman of the 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid, said that the armed forces (Abri), political parties, intellectuals and religious and student leaders should “bury their differences” by coming together to overcome Indonesia’s debilitating political and economic crisis.

But President B.J. Habibie’s response to this was that the Constitution, rather than more dialogue, was the way to solve the nation’s problems.

“There are some people who ask for national dialogue.

“We have to know that it is not easy. … It can create problems.

“We have enough problems,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying yesterday.

He was speaking at the National Resilience Institute, the military’s think-tank. “We should use a constitutional way through Parliament. … It is true that it is not perfect. Make it perfect,” he said.

Mr Wahid told The Straits Times that a dialogue would “create a common awareness of the serious problems facing this country and that each must work for the nation’s good”.

“Without such a reconciliation, we will fall victim to a social revolution,” he said.

He stressed, however, that such a dialogue did not necessarily entail the groups sitting down together at one table to discuss problems.

“Given the political dynamics, that is quite difficult to achieve,” he said.

He suggested instead “a more informal process” in which he would be mediator and meet the political players separately to listen to their views and grievances.

This could be carried out during the upcoming Muslim fasting period, he suggested.

He added: “I will record everything they say and prepare transcripts for the government to follow up.”

He said that he was prepared to visit President B.J. Habibie and Abri chief General Wiranto “to present them with the voice of the people”.

He added that this would help the government make policy decisions which were more considered, instead of imposing law arbitrarily and then incurring the public’s wrath later.

“By February next year, the government will have a clearer idea of what people want and take the necessary steps to meet their aspirations.

“We can start anew and look forward to the general election without fear that there will be violence,” he said.

Several officials, including Mr Arnold Baramuli, the head of the Supreme Advisory Council which advises Dr Habibie on general policies, have rejected the idea on the grounds it was enough to debate political laws in Parliament.

Mr Wahid said yesterday that he had also made an “informal agreement” with State Secretary and Golkar chairman Akbar Tandjung to ensure that polls would be organised by a private committee and not the government as was the previous practice.

“Only then can we have a free, fair and honest election,” he stressed.

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