Mega’s no-show deals blow to hope of unity

Indonesian V-P’s absence from first meeting of reshuffled Cabinet sees Gus Dur’s hopes of healing rift fade.

President Abdurrahman Wahid’s move to appease his influential deputy through a ministerial reshuffle appeared to be in tatters when she snubbed the revamped Cabinet’s first meeting yesterday.

With the clock ticking towards his impeachment, the Indonesian leader’s hope of winning support from Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri at the eleventh hour appeared to be fast fading when she ditched the session in favour of an environmental exhibition.

Her private secretary Bambang Kesowo maintained that her absence was not intentional.

“It’s such short notice,” he said, adding that Ms Megawati was told about the meeting only on Wednesday afternoon. But senior members of her Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) disclosed that her decision to skip the Cabinet session was politically motivated.

There were several reasons for this.

The more immediate reason was that she was not consulted about the ministerial changes.

An aide to her husband Taufik Kiemas noted: “Why should she attend the meeting when she was not even told about his plans? Gus Dur is fooling himself if he thinks that he can win her over by putting in place one of her loyalists.”

Ms Megawati appears to be cool to his appointment of her key adviser, General Agum Gumelar, as the new security chief, contrary to what the palace might have expected.

Indeed, well-placed sources told The Straits Times that when the four star general sought her permission to take over General Bambang Yudhoyono’s post, she said: “Do whatever you think is right. I don’t want to be involved.”

On a broader level, PDI-P sources said that it was almost impossible to repair her relationship with the 60-year-old leader, a man she once regarded as an elder brother.

Said Mr Melono Soewondo: “Gus Dur is attempting to do the impossible by trying to get close to her now. She doesn’t trust him. More importantly, she seems to have decided that this is the time for her to make a bid for the presidency. She has the weight of her party and allies in Parliament behind her.”

Political observers believe that is the crux of the matter. Her quest for the top job largely explains Ms Megawati’s defiance of the President in recent months. She was instrumental in sanctioning the two formal censures against him that paved the way for impeachment proceedings.

She had also brushed aside a power-sharing plan that would let her run day-to-day government while Mr Abdurrahman stays on as a symbolic head.

The President, however, is clutching at straws in hoping for some kind of reprieve from Ms Megawati who was the key pillar of support for his tumultuous 19-month administration.

Palace sources said that his appointment of Gen Agum would lead to a compromise with his deputy.

They also argue that the President could escape defeat through last-minute backing that he could get from the Central Axis, an ad hoc coalition of Muslim parties, and army generals linked to this faction.

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