Fri, 11 Feb 2000

PAN to remain reformist

In the wake of the National Mandate Party (PAN)'s first national congress which started Thursday, The Jakarta Post spoke with the chairman of the organizing committee, Hatta Rajasa, who is the party's deputy to the secretary-general. He is also the chairman of the Reform Faction in the House of Representatives. The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Question: You have repeatedly been mentioned as the strongest candidate to become PAN's next secretary-general. Will you accept the candidacy?

Answer: My main concern now is the success of the congress. I hope it will result in brilliant thoughts, especially in formulating the party's five-year program, perfecting the party's platform and the party's statutes and also in forming the central executive board.

Therefore, it is the congress that will decide the most appropriate criteria for party leaders. The organizing committee's task is to make sure that everyone gets the same chance and opportunity to sit on the central executive board.

I don't want to be misunderstood as abusing the position of committee chairman to gain support for the candidacy.

Should there be many PAN members from the various provincial executive boards who want me to be secretary-general, I would consider it as a sign that I should actively participate in making the party bigger. Therefore, I will do my best to do so. Yes, I'm ready to be nominated.

What criteria should the future secretary-general meet?

We should keep in mind that PAN should maintain its identity as an open party which accommodates all the elements of the nation. It has to be able to widen its popular base so that there will not be the image that PAN is the party of intellectuals. As an open party, it surely has to be able to answer such a challenge and the demands of the community.

The most suitable figure for the post would therefore be one who is not met with resistance (by party supporters), and one with the ability to accommodate the interests of all groups so the party can win the 2004 general election.

Do you believe that you fit that criteria?

Whoever holds the post must be ready for such a challenge.

How would you evaluate the party's performance up to this point?

PAN has played a strategic role, (although) dissatisfaction is of course always there. Yet the fact that we were one of the five top vote-getters in the 1999 general election is a blessing, especially in light of the fact that PAN is a new party. It's a good start.

Due to the lack of time before the last election, there were still many things to do, particularly regarding the party's infrastructure at the district and subdistrict levels.

Some critics have said that PAN chairman Amien Rais seems to have abandoned PAN's programs. Do you agree with this?

I certainly don't think so. This party, as I see it, is still consistent in the sense that PAN is reformist. And Amien, as the locomotive of the reform movement, is still consistent. That we may have made some tactical adjustments (to the party's program), those aren't substantial changes at all. What is substantive is that PAN is a reformist party that is very much concerned with the continuing struggle for a civil society.

If there are people who think that PAN should become an opposition party and therefore stay away from the government, that's just a matter of a difference of view. Giving support or assistance to the legitimate government doesn't mean that we are no longer critical.

We understand opposition as developing a critical attitude. What we're doing now is giving support to the government and at the same time developing our critical attitude as part of the system of checks and balances. That's the meaning of opposition which has developed around us. We don't recognize opposition like that in Western countries or in parliamentary cabinets, in which parliament can topple the government. The House of Representatives here cannot topple the government.

Other critics say PAN tends to be sectarian, especially regarding its role in forming the "axis force" and its attitude toward the conflict in Ambon. How do you see this?

Expressing concern for the Muslim community is the same as expressing concern for 80 percent of the country's total population. It's wrong to say we are sectarian. We are still an open party. The fact that most of our constituents are Muslim is undeniable. It doesn't mean that PAN is an Islamic party. What we did regarding the grassroots community (in Ambon) was irregardless of their religion. It was more about our concern toward the community, which happened to be majority Muslim.

So would you support maintaining the state ideology Pancasila as the party's basic principle?

That's right. But I would like to underline the characteristics of faith and devotion as universal traits. You cannot claim such characteristics as sectarian. If you read the education law, it is written that the goal of national education is to create faithful and devoted citizens.

Retaining Pancasila with the additional traits of faith and devotion in the party's principles means maintaining PAN as an open party based on religious morality, humanity and justice. But it's up to the congress to decide. (Sri Wahyuni)