Mon, 29 Aug 1994

Moslem-based party must sail between 2 rocks

The competition to lead the United Development Party has been the center of controversy in the weeks prior to the start of its congress today. Social scientist Amir Santoso believes the party's biggest challenge is to simultaneously cater to both the political elite and the party's supporters .

JAKARTA (JP): The current competition between certain leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muslimin Indonesia (MI) mass organizations to head the United Development Party (PPP) is a clear indication that political streams still exist in Indonesia.

The NU represents the traditional Moslems and the MI the modernists. The conflict between the two factions is not new and was in fact going on before Indonesian independence.

When the Japanese occupied Indonesia during World War II, they lumped the NU and the modernist Muhammadiyah into a party called Masjumi. However, as a result of internal conflict, the NU decided in 1952 to leave the Masjumi and declared itself a political party.

The two organizations were again amalgamated in 1972 into the PPP, but the frictions still exist. In my opinion, divergent political ideas are a fact of social life in Indonesia and all efforts to unite the various political streams will therefore be doomed to failure, particularly if those efforts are attempted from outside.

Besides inter-group conflicts, however, the PPP also suffers from conflicts within each faction. Today, in the MI, there is a conflict between Buya Ismail Hasan Metareum, the present leader of the PPP and Husni Tamrin. There is also a contest between Matori Abdul Djalil of the NU and his senior, Yusuf Hasjim.


These conflicts show that all the groups lack cohesiveness and also indicates that their organization is weak. Not one of them is capable of circumventing internal conflicts. It therefore is very hard to find an alternative party to counterbalance Golkar.

Indonesia's political style requires that the PPP leadership, apart from possessing organizational qualities, have the capability of elucidating the political culture. Organizational capability is needed to keep the PPP unified. The heterogeneous nature of the PPP requires a leader who is acceptable to the various factions and who can effectively convey the aspirations of the movement's supporters to the government. Unless these aspirations are conveyed in a manner which conforms to the standards of decorum and ethics of the ruling elite, they will not be considered.

I believe that Buya Ismail Hasan Metareum best meets the criteria for leading the PPP. His composed and non-radical style is well liked by the ruling elite and therefore the government will in all probability favor Buya Ismail to once again take up the post. Buya certainly still enjoys a considerable degree of support which makes it hard for his competitors.

On the other hand, the PPP could use a more radical and progressive leader to enable the party to compete with the Indonesian Democratic Party and rally greater support, especially among the younger generation of Indonesians. Buya Ismail is not this kind of leader. Therefore, should the forthcoming party congress decide to retain Buya as party leader, he will have to concede to being assisted by a party secretary general who is able to communicate with the young but also knows how to convey the aspirations of the party's supporters to the ruling elite.

The PPP can be compared to a ship sailing between two rocks. One rock is the ruling elite which holds the political power and the other rock is the masses of PPP supporters who expect the party to be more responsive to their wishes. The new leader must be able to guide the party safely between these two hazards.

The writer is lecturer of political science at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta.