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Critic of Indonesian government cooperates with leader's daughter

Agence France Presse - February 8, 1997

Jakarta – A prominent Indonesian Moslem leader known as a frequent government critic has made the surprising move of cooperating with President Suharto's oldest daughter, news reports said Saturday. Abdurrahman Wahid, head of the 30-million strong Moslem organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the cooperation had nothing to do with upcoming elections and denied he was abandoning opposition politics.

Wahid met Friday with Suharto's daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, who pledged to assist in the construction of a NU building here. "This project has nothing to do with the election but if sympathy grows for Mbak Tutut (Rukmana's popular nickname), don't blame anybody," Wahid told the Jakarta Post daily. Rukmana, who controls one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates Citra Lamtoro Gung, is one of Suharto's four children who are on the parliamentary candidates' list for the ruling Golkar party. Indonesians will go to the polls on May 29. Wahid's move came as a surprise to many as it is widely known that he has close ties with opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI) chairwoman who was ousted in June by a Jakarta-backed party faction. He denied that his meeting with Suharto's daughter was a sign that he was abandoning PDI for Golkar. He did not elaborate. He has also been active in the Democracy Forum, a grouping of leading intellectuals which frequently criticize the government.

Wahid's re-election to the NU helm in 1994 was marked by rumors that the government was unhappy with his leadership and disapproved of him taking a second term. In 1995 he openly accused the powerful Research and Technology Minister Jusuf Habibie, a close ally of Suharto, of having asked him to step down as NU leader. Wahid said after his meeting with Rukmana Friday that both had agreed for Rukmana to attend some large NU gatherings in Central and East Java, NU's stronghold, possibly before the May elections, the Merdeka daily reported. University of Indonesia political scientist Arbi Sanit said Wahid's apparent closer ties with the ruling party was "quite a sharp turn as he has always been careful in keeping his distance with the rulers." Sanit told the Merdeka daily that Wahid's steps were to assure that the Moslem community and elders in particular "would not be under suspicion by the authorities."

The Javanese towns of Tasikmalaya and Situbondo, seen as NU strongholds, have been hit by mass riots involving thousands of Moslems in the last few months which left nine people dead and scores injured. Wahid has said that the Tasikmalaya riot was part of efforts to tarnish his image and that of the NU. lis/lk