Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Nurcholish faces uphill battle with Golkar

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Prominent Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid could help rid Golkar of its shady image if he leads the country's second largest party in the 2004 presidential race, analyst say.

However, the analysts note that the chances of Nurcholish replacing Akbar Tandjung as its presidential candidate are slim.

Nurcholish surprised the political establishment in May when he announced he would run for president.

He dropped another bombshell last Monday when he chose his nomination through Golkar, the party associated with three decades of abusive rule under dictator Soeharto.

University of Indonesia political analyst Maswadi Rauf said Nurcholish had helped Golkar improve its tainted image.

"He is considered to be free of KKN (the Indonesian acronym for Corruption, Collusion and Nepotism) and of the political mess of the past."

Maswadi said Nurcholish allowed Golkar to revive its faltering efforts to improve its image, which have suffered since chairman Akbar was convicted of stealing money intended to feed the poor.

Two courts have found Akbar guilty of misusing Rp 40 billion (about US$4.87 million) in funds from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog). Akbar is appealing the verdict to the Supreme Court and remains free, pending the decision.

He has managed to maintain party unity amid heavy pressure to resign.

Analysts said Nurcholish, a party outsider and newcomer to the political establishment, could be the cure.

"With Nurcholish, they (Golkar) may use him to show that they have changed," Maswadi said.

But he added that by letting him in, Golkar did not mean to make him a showcase of its commitment to reforms.

"There are other Golkar members who can be promoted to symbolize the same thing Nurcholish does."

Considered the nation's wise man, Nurcholish's entrance contrasts starkly with Golkar's dark past.

Analyst Daniel Sparringa of the University of Airlangga in Surabaya said he hoped Golkar was not merely taking advantage of Nurcholish, specifically using his spotless reputation and then selecting another to run for president.

"Golkar should make sure that the selection is fair and transparent. Otherwise it will pay a high price if the public detects foul play," he said.

As yet, Nurcholish's contenders, other than Akbar, include the incumbent Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, Yogyakarta governor Sri Hamengkubuwono X and media magnate Surya Paloh.

The final five presidential candidates will be selected at Golkar's convention in October. Its final candidate will be announced next February.

Daniel said none of the current nominees stood a good chance against Akbar, should he be acquitted by the Supreme Court.

An experienced politician and former minister under the Soeharto administration, Akbar has invested much in securing the loyalty of the party's chapters nationwide.

Nurcholish may draw support from Golkar's young, reform-minded members. Without Akbar, he could further count on votes from Golkar members of the Islamic Students Association (HMI), Daniel said.

"But for now I look at Nurcholish as more of a second choice for Golkar in case Akbar goes to jail," he added.

Analyst Indria Samego of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) agreed. "It's too early to say whether Nurcholish will have an impact on Golkar."

He said that aside from his image, there was little Nurcholish could contribute to the party. Golkar might prefer candidates with political channels and experience, or someone with deep pockets, he said.

For Nurcholish, choosing Golkar is a make-or-break attempt at winning the presidency next year.

Analysts say Golkar boasts the most qualified candidates and has a strong foothold throughout Indonesia. This puts Nurcholish ahead of his competitors.