We need to cool down, says Gus Dur

President calls for peace and unity, but warns of high stakes if legislators press on with moves to impeach him.

President Abdurrahman Wahid yesterday called for unity in Indonesia as he made a last ditch attempt to survive a political battle with legislators on Monday that could oust him from power.

Confronted with foes plotting to topple him and the threat of violence in the capital, his spokesman Wimar Witoelar read a speech on his behalf on national television in which he warned that the stakes would be high if legislators went ahead with moves to impeach him.

“We miss peace,” he said. “We need to cool down so that the country can recover and be successful again … We need to be united.”

Vice President and Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-P) chief Megawati Sukarnoputri was conspicuously absent from the function where his speech was made, even as he sought her backing to stay in power until 2004.

He told the country that his deputy had “deserved to be President” two years ago when her party won the national election. But circumstances then did not allow her to move up.

It instead paved the way for his rise – which she backed.

“I was happy with her decision then to give me a chance,” he said. “She also calmed her supporters who felt that she deserved the position because she is the leader of the party that won more votes.”

“Her concern then was national unity. She will not do anything to hinder the unity of this country.”

Political observers said his praise was aimed at getting her support to block legislators from proceeding with a second censure against him on Monday.

Said a PDI-P member: “He sees Ibu Mega as holding the key to his survival.”

But there appeared little chance of that happening as she has not blocked moves for the censure.

Mr Abdurrahman yesterday called on Indonesians to recognise that he had to handle serious problems when he came to power in October 1999.

“When I started, the nation was in a sad condition. Even if this nation had 100 presidential changes, nobody could mend the economy,” he said. “I took several steps to redress these problems. But don’t judge me so fast …

“If I have made mistakes, please forgive me.”

He also called on all Indonesians not to resort to violence – a call that went out both to his opponents and his own supporters.

Thousands of his supporters have streamed into Jakarta for a massive prayer gathering tomorrow – a day before Parliament convenes for the censure vote.

As Jakarta braced itself, ethnic Chinese in particular continued to stream out of the capital to avoid trouble, while others stocked up on foodstuff and prepared to stay home over the next few days.

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