Subject: Death of Gus Dur

also President Ramos-Horta regrets the passing Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur); Commentary: Gus Dur, whom I knew as a visionary pluralist and humorist

Jakarta mourns loss of Gus Dur

* From: AP, AFP * December 31, 2009 12:00AM

JAKARTA: The first democratically elected president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, died in hospital last night. He was 69.

Mr Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, was practically blind, diabetic and had suffered several strokes.

"Gus Dur just passed away," said Lukman Edy from Wahid's National Awakening Party.

Chief nurse Buwahyuat at the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta said Mr Wahid had been receiving treatment in the intensive care unit.

The exact cause of death was not immediately released.

A moderate Islamic scholar, Mr Wahid succeeded BJ Habibie as president in 1999 and was replaced by Megawati Sukarnoputri after being impeached in 2001.

Mr Wahid was criticised in office for his erratic leadership style and was sacked by the national assembly in 2001 amid unproven allegations of corruption and incompetence.

He defeated Ms Megawati to scoop the presidency in a parliamentary vote, even though her Democratic Party of Struggle put in the strongest showing in a general election earlier in 1999.

His commitment to democracy was not some lately acquired public relations device, as it appeared to be with Dr Habibie, but a profound, life-long commitment to creating a civic society in Indonesia.

That is how he ran Nadhlatal Ulama, the world's biggest Muslim organisation, and that is what prompted him to speak out on behalf of Indonesia's Chinese and Christian minorities.

Several key decisions in his presidency were evidence of his democratic commitment. Mr Wahid went to East Timor to apologise for Indonesia's past crimes there. He also made a huge public commitment by holding regular meetings, in Jakarta, with East Timor's leaders Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta.

He also committed Indonesia to helping establish East Timor as a successful state.

Mr Wahid was also a long-time supporter of good relations with Australia. Although, there were elements of our East Timor diplomacy he did not like, for many years he was a friend of and frequent visitor to Australia. He made a clear, positive decision that it was in Indonesia's interests to repair the bilateral relationship, which is why he ultimately made his much delayed visit here.

He tried, without success, to prosecute members of the Suharto family for corruption. This would have been important in establishing a moral atmosphere for Indonesian politics.

Wahid was certainly eccentric and highly individualistic. Sometimes this was bad, sometimes good. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any of the other leaders of Jakarta's elite sacking General Wiranto because of human rights abuses in East Timor.

Similarly, Mr Wahid tried hard to establish civilian control over the military. He also pioneered, unsuccessfully, an approach to the separatist problems in Aceh and Irian Jaya based on dialogue.

In 1984 he withdrew NU from direct political activism and in 1991 founded instead the Democracy Forum. He refused to have anything to do with the late dictator Suharto's preferred Islamic political vehicle, the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, or ICMI, with which Dr Habibie was closely associated.

As a result Suharto tried to get Mr Wahid dislodged from NU leadership in 1994. He failed. It established Mr Wahid as a leading opponent of Suharto's authoritarianism.

Indonesia held its first direct presidential elections in 2004. They were won by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.




President Ramos-Horta regrets the passing away of Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)

The Timorese Head of State, Dr. José Ramos-Horta, regretted today in a message of condolences the passing away of former Indonesian President Mr. Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil Wahid.

“I deeply regret the passing away of former Indonesian President Mr. Abdurrahman ad-Dakhil Wahid, yesterday noon in Jakarta”, stated the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

According to Dr. Ramos-Horta, “Gus Dur, founder of the National Awakening Party (PKB), will always be remembered as the first elected President of Indonesia after the resignation of Suharto, in 1998”.

“His mandate between 1999 and 2001 was vital to the rebirth of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste as a Nation”, added the Timorese Head of State.

Dr. Ramos-Horta highlighted: “Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid was a slick and maverick opposition personality, whose threat as a moderate and non-confrontational was taken seriously by the Suharto's autocratic regime”.

The message ended with the Timorese President’s expression of sorrow: “In this sad moment of mourning, I would like to send my condolences to the family of Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid, as well as to the People of the Republic of Indonesia”.

PPR - Díli, 31.DEC-09


The Jakarta Post Thursday, December 31, 2009

Commentary: Gus Dur, whom I knew as a visionary pluralist and humorist

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A Jewish friend from Jerusalem sent me a message shortly after former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid passed away on Wednesday evening.

“Deepest condolences at the passing of Gus Dur, a true Indonesian patriot and a great friend. May the people of Indonesia be spared anymore sorrow. With sadness,” former diplomat Emanuel Shahaf wrote in a cell phone message.

The practically blind Gus Dur is probably the most popular Indonesian leader in Israel because shortly after becoming the country’s fourth president in October 1999, he openly said that commercial ties with Israel was one of his top foreign policy initiatives. Gus Dur, who likes jokes, also served with the Jerusalem-based Simon Peres Peace Institute before becoming president.

As a journalist, I had several touching and funny experiences with Gus Dur, both as the chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the country’s fourth president. He is likely to be the only Indonesian president and leader who had the courage to apologize to the people of Timor Leste in March 2000 for their sufferings under Indonesia’s colonial rule.

After visiting the Santa Cruz Cemetery and the Heroes Cemetery in Dili, he said “sorry” to the East Timorese victims. He also apologized to the hundreds of thousands of victims and their relatives of the now- defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) who were murdered following their abortive alleged coup attempt in 1965. Many historians doubted Soeharto’s version of the coup, but until now Soeharto’s version of the tragedy is still used in the history textbooks.

Gus Dur, who loved to make controversial and contradictory statements, is probably also the most respected president of the country’s six presidents among minority groups, including the Indonesian Chinese and Christians. In one visit in Padang, West Sumatra, he strongly criticized Muslims who complained that many churches in Indonesia were built without official permits.

“But how many mosques in this country have official permits?”

I remembered him asking nine years ago.

In a meeting with then Chinese president Jiang Zemin, Gus Dur reiterated his assurance the government would end any discriminatory treatment against Indonesians of Chinese origin. President Jiang raised concern over the May 1998 riots — several days before the fall of president Soeharto — where hundreds of Chinese women were raped, harassed and even killed.

In November 1999, I covered his visit to the US, including a visit to Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City. He told me he was optimistic that he would see again even though he was practically blind. I did not dare to tell him that I had the opposite view. But after that he also made a joke about his meeting with then US president Bill Clinton at the Oval Office, where Clinton reportedly had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky. He also laughed when he repeated how then Japanese prime minister Keizo Obuchi pronounced election (Japanese pronounce l as r) when congratulating Gus Dur in Tokyo in 1999.

We felt saddened every time Gus Dur and his paralyzed wife left the plane during his overseas trip (if not mistaken he visited more than 30 countries during his short presidential period and I covered most of them). Both of them should have been in wheelchairs. His wife was paralyzed in a car accident at the Jagorawi turnpike in 1993. Many NU members still believe the accident was orchestrated by the military to kill her husband because Gus Dur was originally scheduled to be in the same car as his wife.

Soeharto was reportedly often angry with Gus Dur because of his blunt criticism.

His position as the chairman of the country’s largest Muslim organization, NU, which was founded by his paternal grandfather Hasyim Asyari, from 1989 to 1999 gave him a strong position to face Soeharto’s iron-fist rule.

The former president and NU chairman, will be remembered for his controversial remarks. Over the last few years, many Indonesians have stopped paying serious attention to his comments.

But Gus Dur is likely to be among very few Indonesians — if any — who dared to continuously criticize Soeharto’s iron-fist rule, and at the same still maintain cordial personal relations with the country’s second president.

In December 1994, Soeharto openly tried all possible ways — including intimidation and slander — to block the re-election of Gus Dur as NU chairman, but to no avail. Gus Dur openly told journalists that Soeharto did not like him. But he easily won the NU chairmanship race.

While serving as president from October 1999 till July 2001, he often sacked his ministers, including Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and former vice president Jusuf Kalla. His decision to sack Gen. Wiranto as his chief security minister in February 2000 effectively proved his commitment to civilian supremacy.

It was hard to imagine at the time that he could so easily fire a very powerful Army general.

He lost his position to his vice president Megawati Soekarnoputri in July 2001, mainly because of his confrontational approach.

But this nation, especially political elites such as Amien Rais, were responsible for the country’s historic decision to elect a blind man, who had also suffered several strokes, as president just because they did not want Megawati to be president. It is not my intention to offend the disabled — my own wife became disabled after backbone surgery in 2000.

Over the last few years people have ignored Gus Dur’s public remarks. But history will remember him as the guru of the nation, one that tirelessly campaigned for pluralism, inclusivity and democracy.

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