Thu, 27 May 2004

Aspirants seeks NU support before poll

Suherdjoko and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Pekalongan/Jakarta

As the presidential election fast approaches, presidential and vice presidential aspirants are scrambling to win the support of the country's Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Two presidential candidates and a vice presidential aspirant paid a visit on Wednesday to the most influential NU leader, Habib Luthfi, at his residence in Pekalongan, Central Java, to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad.

Gen. (ret) Wiranto of the Golkar Party, United Development Party (PPP) leader and NU member Vice President Hamzah Haz and President Megawati Soekarnoputri's running mate and NU leader Hasyim Muzadi, representing Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), made the trip.

Habib Luthfi is also chairman of the Central Java chapter of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) and leader of Jamaah Thariqat Naqsabandiyah Al Nahdliyah, an organization under the NU.

At least 10,000 NU members attended the celebration, mostly from Central Java.

During the occasion, Habib Luthfi gave away his daughter Fatimah Nikmatullah Azzaenaby in marriage to Luthfi bin Ibrahim bin Yahya, at which ceremony Wiranto was invited to give a speech on behalf of the host and Islamic students, while Hasyim was asked to lead a prayer.

"The cleric is my friend; he came to Jakarta to ask me to host the wedding. I did not come here to campaign," Wiranto said to the gathering.

Hasyim, who was suspended from his post as NU leader for the duration of the presidential campaign, brushed aside suggestions that he had attended the ceremony to woo NU members' support.

"This is a democracy; it is the cleric's choice. If some want to support me, then I will be grateful," he said.

He further expressed a hope that the July 5 election would not polarize NU leaders. "I don't want the NU to split just because of the election. If they choose me or not, they are still my clerics."

Meanwhile, Hamzah arrived at around 10 a.m. and left half an hour later without greeting the press.

While the NU is politically neutral, it boasts a 40 million- strong membership, about 20 percent of the country's population of 220 million.

In Tangerang, Banten, Megawati received support from around 120 NU-run Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) from Java and Sumatra.

On the sidelines of a launch in Tangerang, West Java, of a national network of pesantren, the clerics prayed for Megawati and Hasyim to win in the election.

"We are upset because our leader Gus Dur cannot join the election, and we see Pak Hasyim as a leader and choose to support him," said a cleric, Abdul Gofur. He was referring to Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid's disqualification by the General Elections Commission for health reasons.

He said their support did not mean that the clerics were against Solahuddin Wahid, Gus Dur's brother. "But some of us prefer a civilian to a former military officer," said Abdul, referring to Gen. (ret) Wiranto, with whom Solahuddin is paired.