Indonesian Cabinet steps up efforts to solve Wahid crisis


By Achmad Sukarsono JAKARTA, Reuters

Senior Indonesian Cabinet members stepped up efforts on Tuesday to resolve the country’s nagging political crisis fuelling speculation some type of compromise was being thrashed out.

Chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono led a team of seven ministers that shuttled between talks with besieged President Abdurrahman Wahid and the woman widely expected to take over the troubled country, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Yudhoyono and other ministers declined to give details of the discussions, which follow parliament’s move last week to censure Wahid a second time over two financial scandals, dragging the Muslim cleric closer to impeachment.

“The essence is we are thinking of a good solution so that a political way out can end this turmoil … with everyone satisfied. What form this will take is still being discussed,” Justice Minister Baharudin Lopa told reporters.

Yudhoyono gave a similar response.

Speculation has focused on Wahid either giving more executive power to the daughter of founding president Sukarno or handing her political party, the country’s largest, more Cabinet posts.

But many analysts say Megawati is reluctant to trust her old friend Wahid, reinforcing the growing belief his days as Indonesia’s first democratically elected leader are numbered.

The ministers first met Megawati for more than three hours then held lengthy talks with Wahid. Wahid has canceled all trips outside the capital scheduled for this week amid the jockeying.

Earlier, Indonesian media quoted Yudhoyono saying the Cabinet would stand by Wahid as he tries to hold on to power, even though most Indonesians want him to quit.

About 63 percent of respondents to an online poll by the Tempo news weekly’s Web site, Tempo Interaktif (www.tempo.co.id), said the ailing Muslim cleric should quit after being censured twice by parliament over the two graft scandals.

Only 35 percent of 1,547 respondents said he should stay. However, Wahid’s traditional support comes from rural East Java, where very few people use the Internet.

Wahid denies any wrongdoing but must reply by the end of May to parliament’s second censure.

If legislators are still unhappy, they can ask for a special session of the supreme People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) to consider impeaching him.

The 700-seat MPR includes the 500 members of parliament, so any stand by parliament is almost certain to be endorsed by the assembly.

Yudhoyono said the Cabinet would not abandon Wahid.

“It’s better for my friends and I to continue helping the president and the vice-president by continually providing recommendations to find a constructive political solution,” the Media Indonesia daily quoted him as saying.

“We don’t want to leave just like that. But I will tell him to change direction so that the ship won’t hit the rocks and sink,” he said, rejecting speculation some ministers might quit.

The speculation was stoked by reports Wahid suddenly left a Cabinet meeting on Saturday just 15 minutes after it started.

Megawati, strongly pushed by her inner circle to take power, left the meeting soon after Wahid, leaving ministers dumbfounded, papers reported.

The Jakarta Post said Yudhoyono was responding to a top official from Wahid’s Nation Awakening Party, who warned that seven ministers could be about to betray the president.

On Monday, Wahid’s spokesman again denied rumors the president would dissolve parliament.

The taciturn Megawati holds the key to Wahid’s fate but has remained typically silent about her plans.

She is expected soon to meet leaders of the main parties at the colonial-era presidential palace in the hill town of Bogor, south of Jakarta, to discuss the political crisis. Officials have said that gathering was tentatively scheduled for Friday.