Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Amien Rais reelected PAN chairman

By Sri Wahyuni and Asip Agus Hasani

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The expectations spoke for themselves when Amien Rais remained virtually unchallenged in his bid to retain the National Mandate Party chairmanship on Sunday.

Amien won 584 of the 786 votes cast in the election that marked the final day of the party's first congress. Outgoing secretary-general Faisal Basri earned 124 votes, while the other candidate qualifying for the race, A.M. Fatwa, took 77.

Only one ballot was declared invalid, because it named two candidates.

Originally, five candidates qualified for the election, but Abdillah Toha and Hatta Rajasa threw in the towel, saying they realized they had only a remote chance of beating Amien.

"Amien is like Mike Tyson for me. I would have certainly lost," Abdillah said, referring to the former undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion.

In a late night session, the congress participants elected four members of the party's central board of executives to be in the Amien-led team assigned to select the party's new executives: Faisal, Fatwa, Hatta Rajasa and Patrialis Akbar. Other members of the board are Yogyakarta chairman A.R. Iskandar and his East Java and South Sulawesi counterparts Suwardi and M. Askin.

Faisal said he would decline a second term as secretary- general, citing personal reasons.

"I reject my candidacy (for the secretary-general post), not because I was against any changes to the party's founding platform, but because I have to honor my commitment to hold a position only once," Faisal said.

"I need a new challenge."

Faisal's withdrawal paved the way for Hatta to take the team's key post.

Amien said after his election that this would be his last term, which will last until 2005.

"I hope there will be a young cadre, who is better than me, to take the top job in 2005. One of my concerns is how to generate brilliant party cadres, mainly because the party is very young," Amien said.

The voting, which lasted three hours, went smoothly, but many of the voters vacated the convention room during ballot-counting. Some of them were seen packing their bags or enjoying an entertainment performance near the swimming pool in the Mustika Sheraton Hotel, which hosted the four-day congress.

Asked about Amien's reelection, Faisal said he accepted whatever the congress decided and would support the party's efforts to win the most votes in the 2004 general election.

"Pak Amien received a very significant mandate from the congress, but personally I asked him to also struggle for what my friends and I envisioned for PAN," he said.

Bara Hasibuan, a close associate of Faisal, however, said that having collected 124 votes, Faisal deserved a key position as one of the party's deputy chairmen.

Faisal said he was surprised by his vote earning. Prior to the congress he predicted he would only win up to 10 percent of the vote.

"It was indeed beyond my expectations," he said.

He presumed his support came mostly from young constituents, especially those who shared his progressive way of thinking.

"But I hope they won't be too progressive compared to what I did (in criticizing the party), which seems to me I perhaps went too far," he said.

Political observer Mahfud M.D. of Yogyakarta's Indonesian Islamic University said Amien's reelection came as no surprise.

However, he praised the fact that there were no signs of blocking any candidates from running for the chairmanship.

"We have seen in the past a strong candidate pressing his or her contenders, who then made an early exit," he said.

Mahfud said Amien's heaviest burden would be how to unite factions within the party.

"If disputes are not quickly and wisely settled, especially the one regarding the party's founding principle, the split will remain," he said.

"I think the solution which meets the conflicting interests is keeping the founding platform. The ad hoc committee should decide so as faith and devotion could be applied in the program, not necessarily in its official platform," he added.

According to Faisal, the most urgent task of the chairman for the following years is to make the party understand the needs of its constituents.

"We are intelligent, but intelligence does not guarantee that we can understand the demands of our constituents," Faisal said.