Showdown? Relax …

The demonstrations in Jakarta may not have taken place, but Gus Dur has not helped matters by refusing to attend a parliamentary probe

There was no threatened showdown in Jakarta’s streets between supporters and opponents of President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday, but the Indonesian leader may well have sparked further tension by refusing to attend a parliamentary probe.

In what is turning out to be a political boxing match between the ailing Muslim cleric and his enemies in Parliament, Mr Abdurrahman brushed aside a summons request to appear before a commission of the House of Representatives (DPR) investigating two controversial financial scandals.

Presidential spokesman Wimar Witoelar justified this position on the grounds of the summons being “improper and unconstitutional”.

“Popularity-wise, it would be in the President’s favour to meet the invitation of the DPR,” he said. “But that is not what is wished. The President wants to uphold the constitution.”

The special parliamentary commission is seeking to question Mr Abdurrahman tomorrow over a US$3.9 million (S$6.6 million) embezzlement allegedly carried out by his masseur, and the fate of a US$2 million donation from the Sultan of Brunei which the President claims was a personal gift.

Speaking to reporters before the President left for Singapore yesterday, Mr Wimar said that Mr Abdurrahman would only accept a summons if it was issued in the proper manner.

“There are legal requirements that are needed before a President can be summoned for questioning,” he said.

But for legislators crying for blood over the President’s failings in running the country, his refusal to appear before Parliament has only raised the ante with both parties now headed on a collision course.

The Central Axis faction, a loose alliance of Muslim parties that helped elect Mr Abdurrahman in October 1999, declared on Sunday that they were withdrawing support for him.

They are not alone.

Mr Meilono Soewondo, deputy of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) faction in Parliament, also said his party was getting increasingly “agitated” by the President’s behaviour.

He disclosed that Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who heads the party and whose support is crucial for Mr Abdurrahman’s political survival, was keen on the “Bulogate” and “Bruneigate” scandals being resolved.

He told The Straits Times: “He and his supporters are trying to find all kinds of loopholes to escape when they know they are guilty.

“By issuing him a summons, we are giving him a right to defend himself. If he rejects that right, it is all right with us because others will be giving their testimony before the commission.

“If they give us enough evidence of his involvement in the scandals, we will call for a vote to hold a special session. He will be finished then.”

Mr Meilono said that the President had also not helped calm political tensions in the capital by threatening to get his supporters on to the streets if his position was threatened.

The feared mass protests scheduled to take place yesterday did not happen.

Indonesian police said they had deployed 40,000 troops in the capital to prevent supporters and opponents of the President flooding Jakarta and clashing.

There was an early scare after an unidentified caller said a bomb was planted in the office of economic czar Rizal Ramli. Nothing was found, however.

Otherwise, Jakarta appeared to be normal, though much quieter as people stayed off the streets in reaction to the rumours.

Diplomatic sources said the threats of huge demonstrations were nothing but an attempt by the President and his opponents at psychological warfare.

Said a Western diplomat: “Both parties are trying to wear each other out. Their threats are rhetorical but given the growing tensions in the political elite, it might be a matter of time before their respective supporters take to the streets.”

Posted in Indonesia