Tue, 09 Nov 1999

Kediri gears up for NU congress

KEDIRI, East Java (JP): When the town was selected to host the congress of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) five years ago, few people, including residents of Kediri, expected this to be a different gathering from the ones the organization had held in the past.

The congress, which opens on Nov. 21, will have to find a successor to NU's chairman of the last 15 years, Abdurrahman Wahid, who was elected Indonesia's fourth president last month.

The town has been redecorated to greet the 5,000 participants of NU's 20th congress. There is no doubt however about who will be the special guest this time: The President himself.

As Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, NU's congress has always drawn national and international attention.

Kediri will be no exception. If anything interest will be even stronger because of the tie to the new President.

All major downtown hotels such as Hotel Safari and Hotel Pamenang are already booked up. Hotel Merdeka said all its rooms had been reserved for the period since four months ago.

The congress venue, the Lirboyo Islamic Boarding school, is about 10 kilometers away from the town's center.

With the number of hotel rooms limited, residents are prepared to cash in on the event. Some 1,200 houses around the Lirboyo complex have been made available for congress participants, observers and members of the expected media circus.

They come at different prices.

At the nearby Willis housing complex, a house with two to three rooms is available for between Rp 2 million and 3 million for the 10-day period. A similar property at KBN is rented for up to Rp 2.5 million. There are other properties going for between Rp 750,000 and Rp 1 million.

"We want to support the congress. This is truly a blessing for the locals," said Rukmini, a resident whose house has already been booked.

The task of organizing the congress falls on Lirboyo.

"The main session will be held in the new school compound while the old school building will be used for the meetings of the various commissions," said Halimi, chairman of the local organizing committee.

The highlight of the congress will be the election of a successor to Abdurrahman.

Four men have been mentioned as prospective candidates: Muslim cleric in Rembang Mustofa Bisri or Gus Mus, chairman of East Java chapter Hasyim Muzadi, NU scholar Said Aqiel Siradj and NU deputy chairman Fadjrul Falaakh. (nur/edt)