Mon, 07 Jul 2003

Government expected to resolve PKB dispute

Muninggar Sri Saraswati and Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Semarang

The government has decided to pick one of two rival groups within the National Awakening Party (PKB) as the legitimate representative of the party to run for the upcoming election.

"We have reached a deal over the dispute. But we must report it to the minister before making it public. We are ready to face any risks (of possible resistance from the unchosen camp)," said Ramli Hutabarat, director for political party verification at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, emerging from a meeting on Saturday.

Political parties are required to register with the ministry to run for the 2004 election.

The decision is expected to put to rest a drawn out dispute between the rival camps of Matori Abdul Djalil and Alwi Shihab.

Ramli said Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra was expected to announce their decision on Tuesday.

A ministry official who attended the Saturday meeting said the PKB dispute had been a headache for the ministry.

"It was a difficult decision," he said, adding that ministry officials had been relieved when they learned earlier that Alwi was considering establishing another party called the National Awakening Party (PKN). Alwi dropped his plans after the Supreme Court decided in his favor.

The dispute broke out following Matori's dismissal as PKB chairman in 2001 by its chief patron Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, who was then president. Gus Dur was irked by Matori's participation in the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) Special Session in 2001, which led to Gus Dur's impeachment.

After his dismissal, Matori set up another party with the same name in 2003, setting off a legal dispute.

The Supreme Court has issued a verdict over the dispute, banning Matori from using the party's name, anthem and logo. Both camps have tried to block each other's way to contend the presidential election.

Speaking on Sunday after a two-day PKB meeting in Semarang, Matori said he was prepared to establish a new political party if the court decided in favor of the Alwi-led PKB.

"If we lose in court we will establish a new party under the name the Democratic Nationalist Party (PKD)," Matori said.

However, he said he would abide by whatever decision was made by the leadership of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) during a meeting scheduled for Monday in Pati, Central Java, to discuss the PKB dispute.

Matori also said he would try to reach a compromise with the rival PKB if his group won the court case.

"We will compromise if the court rules in our favor. And if we lose we will establish a new party," the minister of defense said.

Separately, the General Elections Commission (KPU) has announced that it planned to disburse some Rp 13 billion (US$1.6 million) for PKB for its election campaign.

The PKB's voter basis, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) -- the biggest Muslim organization in the country with some 40 million members -- is doubtful that it could help reunite the camps.

Andi Djamaro, an NU deputy chairman, said that it would not be easy for the NU to act as mediator between the camps if there was no request from either of them.

"I can only ask both camps to accept the verdict over the PKB dispute," said Andi during a national meeting of Matori's PKB, saying that the camps were currently trying to reunite.

He expressed concern that the PKB conflict was originally aimed at dividing NU constituents during the upcoming election.

Andi said that the Monday meeting aimed at "saving NU constituents".

"If the dispute cannot be settled, NU constituents must be directed to other parties such as Golkar, the United Development Party (PPP) or others," he said.

He asserted that NU constituents would not be absent from the voting next year.