Indonesia’s Megawati shuns Cabinet meeting

JAKARTA, Reuters

A rift between Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri and the besieged president appeared to deepen on Thursday when she snubbed a Cabinet meeting to open an environment exhibition instead.

The growing animosity between Megawati and President Abdurrahman Wahid, who both control millions of fanatical followers, has taken center stage in recent weeks as the Muslim cleric hunts desperately for ways to stave off impeachment.

Some analysts worry the split could spill into conflict among their loyalists, especially on densely populated Java, which could unleash a wave of bloodshed on the battered country.

New chief security minister Agum Gumelar told reporters that during the three-hour meeting Wahid asked the Cabinet to help resolve the country’s political crisis — something ministers have been trying to do for weeks. “The president gave directions for us to melt the current political freeze,” Gumelar said.

Megawati normally chairs the regular Cabinet meetings.

Senior aide Bambang Kesowo earlier told reporters she knew the Cabinet meeting was scheduled but had a prior commitment to open an environment exhibition instead.

Asked if Megawati did not consider the Cabinet meeting to be more important, Kesowo added: “No, both are important.” Cabinet meetings are routinely scheduled for every second Thursday.

In the past week, Megawati has shunned two swearing-in ceremonies for several new ministers that she would normally have been required to attend. Last month Megawati also snubbed one key Cabinet meeting and abruptly left another. The politically cornered Wahid last week sacked six ministers in a reshuffle and made his national police chief non active, moves that aides say took Megawati by surprise.

On Thursday, she reportedly criticized Wahid’s decision to sideline police chief General Bimantoro.

“She feels that there are efforts to break up the police, the military and PDI-P,” businessman Bambang Susatyo quoted Megawati as saying. PDI-P refers to the Indonesian Democratic Party Struggle (PDI-P), which Megawati leads.

She is also expected to reject a power sharing deal from Wahid as part of his attempts to placate MPs bent on ousting him.

Indonesia’s supreme legislature will consider impeaching Wahid on August 1 over two graft scandals and his chaotic 19-month rule. It has the power to dismiss Wahid, whom it elected president for a five-year term in October 1999.

Amien Rais, the chairman of the supreme People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), warned Wahid to attend the session.

Wahid has said he will refuse to give an account of his rule at the hearing, something required under Indonesia’s complicated impeachment regulations.

“The agenda of the session is to seek the president’s accountability…that is not-negotiable. So, if the president refuses to attend, it will be considered a revolt (against the MPR),” Rais told reporters without elaborating.

Wahid has threatened to declare a state of emergency if legislators persist in the impeachment effort, drawing fire from his own ministers, the armed forces and politicians alike.

Gumelar, one of those ministers appointed last week, has also expressed opposition to the threat.