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Signs of rift between Mega and Hamzah growing

Straits Times - October 9, 2001

Jakarta – Discord between Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Vice-President Hamzah Haz is becoming increasingly obvious now, with the two frequently making conflicting statements, analysts and legislators said.

Officials at the State Secretariat said over the weekend that they were annoyed with statements made by Mr Hamzah, whom they described as one who talks too much.

They said his free-wheeling statements often contradicted Ms Megawati's stance, the latest being on the question of an Afghanistan jihad.

Mr Hamzah had said the government would not bar Indonesians wishing to travel to Afghanistan to participate in a jihad, but after a Cabinet meeting last week the government issued a statement prohibiting Indonesians from fighting in a war in any foreign country. Before that, the two leaders had differed on a more fundamental issue, the amendment of the 1945 Constitution. Mr Hamzah wanted to enshrine the position of Syariah (Islamic law) in the Constitution, but Ms Megawati objected to the idea.

If such disagreements are not addressed quickly, observers warned, they could be used by the administration's opponents to attack it. "The two leaders should restrain themselves from making statements just to satisfy their own constituents," political observer J. Kristiadi said on Saturday.

"They have to show true statesmanship and address the entire nation." He said both leaders should coordinate their statements, and adjust themselves to each other, considering that they came from parties with different ideologies.

Ms Megawati, with her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), is widely-known as a nationalist, while Mr Hamzah is the chairman of the largest Muslim-based party in the country, the United Development Party (PPP).

"That is why, the two should build a more informal relationship. They could do it through having breakfasts together, for instance," Mr Kristiadi said, referring to the weekly breakfast meetings that used to be held by the President and Vice-President during the administration of former President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Meanwhile, legislators Alvin Lie from the National Awakening Party and Ferry Mursidan Baldan from the Golkar party, both of which helped Ms Megawati and Mr Hamzah come to power, said they could understand why the two leaders differed in some areas, considering their different political backgrounds