Ties with Gus Dur are ‘purely professional’ : Megawati

NO MORE ‘CLOSE FRIEND’

Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, in the strongest signal yet of her disillusion ment with President Abdurrahman Wahid, yesterday described her relationship with him as “purely professional”.

Downgrading her ties with the President, who had long been seen as her “close friend”, she told leaders from the Muhammadiyah group that her backing for him was “confined to my tasks as Vice-President”.

“I have never been a supporter of Abdurrahman Wahid,” Mr Din Syamsuddin, deputy chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Islamic organisation, quoted her as saying during a meeting at the state palace.

Mr Din headed a 10-member delegation which handed her a petition calling on the President to hand over power to her. Close aides and members of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P), which Ms Megawati chairs, said Mr Din’s account of what she said “reflected accurately her sentiments”.

It was also an indication of “a relationship that was slowly turning sour”. “As the No 2 in this country, she is bound constitutionally to support the President,” a senior PDI-P legislator said. “That does not mean that she supports Gus Dur personally … ”

He told The Straits Times that Ms Megawati had been making such views known during meetings with party cadres for the last two months.

It was most pronounced when the PDI-P had to take a decision to join other parliamentary factions to pass a censure memorandum against the President for his alleged complicity in two financial scandals.

“She was disillusioned with him then. I think even more so now,” he said.

The slide in their relationship is linked to a number of factors.

Diplomatic sources said the most glaring was an allegation made by the President about Ms Megawati and an adjutant. His remarks at one meeting were secretly taped, and the Vice-President was “angry and upset” after hearing it.

Mr Abdurrahman has also threatened to crack down on the business activities of her husband, Mr Taufik Kiemas, if the PDI-P was gunning to impeach him.

Close aides said another sore point was that the President had failed to deliver on his pledge in last August to allow Ms Megawati to run day-to-day affairs of government. He has instead continued to intervene periodically.

Political observers believe that if the relationship gets worse, it would only be to the detriment of the President, who already has the threat of impeachment hovering over him.

Ms Megawati’s party, after all, commands the largest presence in Parliament. Said Mr Jusuf Wanadi of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies: “Psychologically, she is ready to take over the reigns of power. For her, the only problem is how to do it … Her resolve is growing with every attempt Gus Dur makes to undermine her.”

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