Subject: Transcript: Interview With President Wahid in London

Australian Broadcasting Corporation The World Today - Wednesday, February 2, 2000 12:35 -transcript-

Interview with Indonesian President Wahid in London

Wahid dismisses fears of a coup

COMPERE: Indonesia's President, Abdurrahman Wahid, has disparaged suggestions that his bid to remove the Security Minister, General Wiranto, could result in a coup against his new government.

The President is down-playing the prospect of any kind of army backlash against his government as he steps up pressure on General Wiranto to resign gracefully rather than be unceremoniously sacked from his job.

General Wiranto is of course one of six generals named in the human rights report on atrocities committed in East Timor and he may now face prosecution. President Wahid would much prefer the General, he says, to defend himself from outside government than within.

The President outlined his latest tactical moves against General Wiranto at a media conference at his hotel in London as Michael Dodd reports.

MICHAEL DODD: When interviewed at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland over the weekend President Wahid tried to appear to be so relaxed about getting rid of General Wiranto that he said he would wait until he was back home in Jakarta before asking him to resign.

But in the days of the instant global communication that position looked ridiculously patient, and when he addressed the world's media in London the President indicated that he was trying to speed up the General's departure.

He said he telephoned his Defence Minister in Indonesia and told him to ask General Wiranto to resign now rather than wait for the end of the Presidential world tour on February 13. And President Wahid tried to signal to the General that a quick exit was both the patriotic thing to do and something which was also in the General's own interest by stopping him from being further harassed by the Indonesians who oppose him.

PRESIDENT WAHID: … if it is done as early as possible then it will be good for him, and it will simplify matters for us as well.

QUESTION: Does that imply he will be punished more severely if he delays his resignation?

PRESIDENT WAHID: Oh no, no, no, no. No such thing, because I respect him very much. The fact that I would like for him to resign early in order to avoid harassment means that I respect him so in a sense there is no such thing as a hatred or things like that, this whole fear of a coup d'etat and that's all hogwash. For me he's a respectable person and we have to respect him for that but the law is law. If the law says that he is guilty then he has to resign. That's my position, not only regarding him but regarding all the Ministers.

MICHAEL DODD: But what is it that makes President Wahid confident that he can move against the General without precipitating a coup, or some other military backlash against him?

The answer, he insists, is his knowledge of the Army. He says the armed forces know that the Indonesia people are behind the Government on this issue, and he also claims to be confident that in the event of any attempted coup that only a minority of soldiers would be on General Wiranto's side.

PRESIDENT WAHID: I know the Army so you know I think only a small number of people will take the sides of General Wiranto or anyone. General Wiranto himself I think would not do that kind of thing you allege him to do.

MICHAEL DODD: But of course the problem for President Wahid is that the longer General Wiranto clings to office the more it undercuts the President's insistence that a coup is the last thing the embattled General could possibly have on his mind.

Michael Dodd, The World Today, London.

COMPERE: So how is President Wahid's announcements in London and other places on this overseas trip his making being interpreted in Jakarta.

Our Correspondent, Mark Bowling is in the Indonesian Capital. He joins us on the line.

Mark, what are the newspapers and the gossip around town saying about the President speaking out like this while he's overseas?

MARK BOWLING: Well, John, firstly the business confidence is being again jittery about this whole thing. We've seen the markets reacting yesterday to the news, not in a grand fashion, but certainly anything like this is going to affect them. The capital, Jakarta, is, I must say, very quiet. It's not like it was say in May 1998 when Suharto was forced to step down. There is no sense of crisis here whatsoever, and I think this is really the way it's being interpreted in newspapers and the media generally is that this is the end gain, if you like, of a situation that's been working towards for quite some time.

The East Timor Report was always going to name names and of course it has, and this means that really what we're seeing is the end play between the old guard of the military against the new reform government of President Wahid and this last stand off is really the end of an era in that sense and ultimately General Wiranto will have to step down, whether it's in the next few days or the next few weeks but he will have to stand aside as this court procedure goes ahead and if in fact he is brought to trial.

COMPERE: Mark, you seem to be saying that in some senses this is a traditional shadow play though, that the words as given, that if he doesn't resign then we'll remove him from office won't necessarily be played out in the next 24 or 48 hours, that there's a little bit of shuffling around, a bit of ritual dancing going on between the two parties?

MARK BOWLING: Well very much so John, and the Foreign Minister, Alwi Shihab who is accompanying President Wahid, actually stepped in to try and clarify the situation and what he said was this:

"I would like to reiterate that what the President meant by 'he has to resign' - that is Wiranto - is this: He means that Wiranto has to put himself in a position of inactivity before he's placed on trial. If he is put on trial then he will have to resign".

So again this softens the statement if you like and clearly puts it in the framework of what is happening with this East Timor court procedure.

COMPERE: I certainly detected there when we were listening to some of the words from the President Wahid in London, a little softening which may have eluded people there. If you listen carefully he just says at one stage if Wiranto is guilty then he'll have to resign and step aside. So I think there is a bit of a softening going on.

MARK BOWLING: Very much so, and also in his words he's saying that General Wiranto is an honourable man, someone he respects very much. There is this mutual admiration and understanding that what General Wiranto has done for the military has been to take it through a time of transition as well since the downfall of Suharto.

It's something which General Wiranto's lawyers were talking about yesterday when they called a press conference to talk about their plan of action they said that the whole business about East Timor was very unfair on their client which is not just General Wiranto but other generals as well but of course the Indonesian military had done in some respects a good job in even allowing, facilitating the East Timor referendum to go ahead and this has been the point that General Wiranto has been trying to make himself and it will be a point that his lawyers will be pressing if the court goes ahead.

COMPERE: Yes, I was going to say just a brief final point though, Mark, these two figures, Wiranto and Wahid are the ones we're concentrating on. There must be other figures at play within Indonesia as it moves into a more democratic mode. What's the general mood around town.

MARK BOWLING: Well the general mood is that President Wahid does have the ball and is running with it in the sense that he has firmly, he has around him a group of democrats, people who take Indonesia in that direction. He doesn't have a cabinet which is, if you like, all of the same mind, but he's trying to pull together all these disparate elements to try and take Indonesia on a course of democracy. It's very difficult and I think most people in the Indonesian elite appreciate that and know that it's not going to be easy in Indonesia for at least another year.

COMPERE: Mark Bowling, thanks very much. Mark Bowling our Indonesia correspondent speaking to us from the ABC Office in Jakarta.


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