Mon, 29 Aug 1994

Ismail Hasan's leadership put to the test at PPP congress

By Santi WE Soekanto

JAKARTA (JP): When chairman of the United Development Party (PPP) Ismail Hasan Metareum presents an account of his leadership today, he will have to explain whether his was a successful term or one characterized with conflicts and subservience.

In recent months, questions and doubts about his capability have been expressed by many people as the party prepares for its congress.

Is his claim of bringing "calmness and serenity" to the party reputed for its internal bickerings justified, or is it a cover- up of what was actually subservience to the government?

Did his supporters' claim of Ismail Hasan's success in reconciling the party's four factions have any foundation? Are the recent conflicts among party leaders the result of that reconciliation, or are they the very proof that he has failed?

There is another question which may be answered in the party's five-yearly general elections today: is he successful enough to merit a second term at the helm of the Moslem-based party?

The jury is still out on those questions, but a number of people have given their evaluation of the leadership of the calm, 65-year bespectacled man who is usually called Buya (father).


Sri Bintang Pamungkas, an intellectual recruited by Ismail Hasan as the party's vote getter in the 1992 election and later rewarded with a seat at the House of Representatives, said the chairman failed miserably.

"He and his secretary general Matori Abdul Djalil should be held accountable for making this party so weak and a mere subordinate of the power," he said, citing the party's poor showing in the 1992 elections as well as sluggishness in the face of many important issues such as freedom of the press.

"He definitely should not seek another term," Bintang added.

Matori, who was widely accused of doing very little himself, launched similar attacks against the chairman.

Lashing out at "certain leaders" who put their interests above the party's, he warned that PPP would continue losing supporters unless its leadership change style.

For Ali Hardi Kiaidemak, a PPP politician at the DPR, the mud- slinging against the chairman was an act of ingratitude and was improper.

Ismail Hasan's strength was his ability to survive his role as the bridge to the people and the power holders, Ali said.

"Buya is really a wise man, who maintains his calmness in the face of many problems," Ali said. "He is an accomplished party man, and a good statesman as well."

"And remember, this is a collective leadership we're talking about, so not one decision of the party's executive board is made by one man alone," he said.


Ismail Hasan considered the accusations about his "failure" in controlling internal bickering was off-target.

In a recent interview with TPI television, he said the 1973 fusion of the four original Moslem groups (Nahdlatul Ulama or NU, Syarikat Islam, Muslimin Indonesia and Perti) was complete.

"There is no doubt that the founders of this party wanted a total fusion," he said. "Later conflicts emerged because some individuals were putting their own interests above the party's."

When Ismail Hasan took up the party's baton five years ago, people expected him to resolve once and for all the conflicts among the four factions, which became very marked under the leadership of the flamboyant J. Naro.

During Naro's term, the conflicts centered on competition between NU and Muslimin Indonesia (MI), with NU often finding itself at a disadvantage.

Many analysts predicted then that Ismail Hasan would introduce a leadership which is moderate, accommodative and would avoid conflicts at any cost. During the five years he was in office, it was true that not many signs of conflicts were visible.

It was during the run-up to this congress, however, that some people in the party, especially those from NU faction, started to question his style.

The fact that PPP raised its votes by only one percent in the 1992 election became the basis for some NU leaders to express intention to wrest leadership from Ismail, who hails from MI.

Some analysts believed that the NU leaders, who in 1984 vowed to shun politics, wanted to come back to the arena.

"Ismail could not increase the party's votes, so let NU take over. It's our time to lead now," said one NU leader.


Dr. Maswadi Rauf from the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia said that no judgment on Ismail Hasan's performance should be passed without clear-cut criteria and full awareness of the total political situation.

Among the criteria suggested by Maswadi are the party's performance under the current total political format, the party's identity, and its internal development.

Under the current condition, which tends to minimize the roles of political parties, Ismail Hasan has done his best to develop PPP and cultivate the Moslems' support, according to Maswadi.

Another analyst, Syamsuddin Haris of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said complete fusion within PPP could not take place unless the format of political system changes.

"The party will face the same bickerings unless we change the political format first," he said. "The party was designed in such a way as to accommodate various Moslem-based forces, but to also coopt them so that they couldn't grow strong enough to oppose the government."

As for the question of the identity of PPP, even party members are split in their opinion. Bintang said, when announcing his intention to run for chairmanship, that he wants PPP to become an "Islamic party" which will accommodate the political aspirations of Moslems.

Ali Hardi, on the other hand, said the party is "open", which means that, despite its Moslem-based structure, people from any religious background can join it.

This division was, for Syamsuddin, another proof of Ismail Hasan's ineffectiveness. He agreed that Ismail Hasan's low- profile management of the party had a calming effect on it, but still thought he failed on the party's many crucial political targets.

PPP lacks clear political vision, Syamsuddin said. "We have not seen the party to be responsive enough on issues of national interests, such as the loan-scandal at the Bank Pembangunan Indonesia (Bapindo) or certain government policies," he said.