Wednesday, May 26, 1999

Indonesian kingmaker wants ties with India, China

THE NATION May 26, 1999, Wednesday


MEDAN -- Indonesia's kingmaker said in a television talk show on Monday evening that he would like the future democratic Indonesia to build better cooperation with Asian countries such as India and China.

Abdurrahman Wahid, chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, said that these two countries were the world's most densely populated with “huge domestic markets” and technical capabilities to develop small and medium-sized business corporations.

“We could tap into not only their huge markets but also their know- how. Our economy should be based on common sense just like theirs. It should not be based on an abrupt concept like what is being implemented now,” said Wahid, referring to a programme called the “people's economy” developed by Cooperation and Small Business Minister Adi Sasono, who is a close aide to President BJ Habibie.

Critics say the programme, which basically provides for low bank interest for cooperatives and small businesses, is politically motivated as it has some anti-Chinese elements and favouritism towards groups connected to both Sasono and Habibie.

Wahid, who is affectionately known here as Gus Dur, also mentioned his eagerness to see Indonesia work with developed Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan in a bid to cooperate with Western European countries as well as the United States.

“I'm not saying that we are not going to cooperate with these Western countries, but we should give more attention to India and China,” Gus Dur said. The Muslim leader is frequently thought to have great influence over opposition leaders like Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle and Amien Rais of the National Mandate Party.

The three of them earlier this month issued a communique in which they called on the public to prevent the old regime of Suharto from coming back to power in the elections scheduled for early next month.

Gus Dur is also widely respected in Indonesia's Java Island rural areas, making him an important figure for anyone who wants to rule Indonesia as well as the powerful Indonesian armed forces. The nearly blind Gus Dur, who had a mild stroke two years ago, appeared to be healthy during the 90-minute talk show on the TPI channel. It was broadcast live, received telephone callers and had a studio audience of dozens of students as well as two political commentators.

Gus Dur became emotional when political commentator Indria Samego of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences suggested that he was only indulging in rhetoric. “Come on, where were you when Suharto was in power? I was there for 15 years being trampled by Suharto, who did not want to see me as the head of the Nahdlatul Ulama. I did not see you there, sir,” said Gus Dur.

He stressed that if his group won the election the first thing that they would like to do was change the way Indonesia had been governed over the last five decades. The government should be responsible to the people, not only in rhetoric, but also in practice, he said, and the people should be able to change the government by an election.

Local parliaments should be able to elect their leaders, he said, and governors should not be able to change the results of elections and indeed should be elected by provincial parliaments in polls not subject to alteration by central government.

When a caller asked Gus Dur about his involvement in the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank closely associated with Suharto in the 1970s and alleged to have helped suppress several local resistance movements in Indonesia, Gus Dur said that he had agreed to sit on the board of the CSIS because he believed that it had changed a lot.

He said he would like to see more Muslim figures managing the day-to- day affairs of the CSIS, adding that he was now nominating Muslim Abdurrahman, a Muslim thinker just returned from the United States, to head the body.

Many Muslim groups dislike the CSIS, which is perceived as having been widely involved in controversial policies such as the suppression of Muslim opposition parties in the 1970s. The think-tank is also considered to be a Christian-dominated organisation financed by Chinese tycoons, though it is also well known for its extensive library and economic research.

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