Gus Dur plays card to hand Mega power

In an attempt to derail impeachment momentum, Indonesian leader offers day-to-day control to his deputy.

President Abdurrahman Wahid said yesterday he was prepared to hand over substantial power to his deputy, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, as he battled for political survival.

But his aides conceded that the conciliatory gesture, in response to calls from Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung to let the Vice-President run day-to-day government, was aimed solely at warding off an impeachment salvo, and not at genuine concerns of power sharing.

Palace spokesman Adhie Massardi, announcing the move to reporters, quoted Mr Abdurrahman as saying he would hand over power to Ms Megawati, only if the constitution was changed.

“The President responded that the issue of splitting power between a head of state and a head of government must be fully based in the Constitution,” he said.

“The Constitution should be amended first and that would have to be discussed by the MPR”.

The MPR, or People’s Consultative Assembly, is the country’s highest legislative body.

Mr Akbar had said the MPR would have to convene a special session to amend several constitutional provisions to allow the plan to get off ground.

His suggestion had a historical precedent. In 1948, the late president Sukarno, the father of Ms Megawati, allowed his deputy to hold administrative power while he remained the symbolic head of state. The same formula could be applied to post-Suharto Indonesia.

He said the Vice-President could be given authority to appoint Cabinet members and senior military officers. Mr Abdurrahman could have a say in who became Chief Justice or an ambassador.

The idea was shot down almost immediately by several parliamentary factions, including the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle which is led by Ms Megawati.

A senior Cabinet Minister disclosed that the President would also have “great difficulty swallowing the idea” because it would mean being a leader “only in name”.

“Gus Dur will never accept that,” he said. “He is someone who likes to micro-manage. He has too much of an ego to let Megawati call the shots.”

Mr Abdurrahman’s supporters said he was forced to acquiesce with the suggestion as an “act of appeasement”. A palace aide said: “He is really trying to buy time. He wants to show his enemies that he is prepared for a compromise. But it is based on short-term considerations of survival. He is not interested in giving up power so easily”

The President’s appeasement strategy takes place against a backdrop of threats to expose key opposition leaders of complicity in corruption scandals during the Suharto era. On the hit list are Golkar legislators, including Mr Akbar.

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