Sat, 12 Feb 2000

PAN to target constituents from rural areas, Amien says

YOGYAKARTA (JP): National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Amien Rais has blamed his party's poor performance in last year's elections for its failure to attract votes from people in rural areas.

In his accountability speech on Friday during the party's first congress here he said that PAN campaigners had wasted too much time building an image as a party that represented the middle class and the educated.

"I was encouraged by the enthusiastic reception from the masses during my trips to remote areas. It turned out to be a lie, because such a mood was not felt at the grassroots in rural areas," Amien said.

The party won 7.5 million votes in the June 1999 polls, just seven percent of the total votes cast, and was rewarded with 34 House of Representatives seats.

Amien said the outcome was "beyond expectation".

He remarked that most of the party's votes came from urban and middle-class areas, but almost none came from poor rural areas.

"We lacked efforts to promote the party to people living in villages, so that many of them were reluctant to join our struggle for reform," Amien said.

He said a wrong approach had led to them the misunderstanding that the party was only open to clean and disciplined constituents.

"There was an impression that if the party won, gambling, rooster fighting and other games of that kind would be banned," Amien said.

He suggested the party begin recruiting cadres from rural areas and introduce policies that serve the interests of laborers, farmers and fishermen.

"These two groups of constituents, the urban and the rural, should become the party's strong pillars that will help us gain wider support in our attempts to step up the reform movement," Amien said.

The congress also agreed on the procedures to elect a party chairman, with each provincial and foreign chapter allowed to name up to three candidates.

The election will be by direct voting, with the candidate winning the most votes becoming the party's chief who will also chair an eight-member team tasked with selecting the party's executives.

Of some 1,000 participants at the congress, 700 have the right to vote. The voters comprise two representatives from each district and provincial chapter, all members of the central executive board and members of the party's advisory body.

Debate on the planned changes to the party platforms continued into the evening session before the deliberation of the proposal on Saturday.

PAN's head of foreign affairs Bara Hasibuan said secretary- general Faisal Basri was ready to challenge Amien Rais if the party approved the proposal to insert the Islamic terms for faith and devotion into its founding statutes.

Bara renewed his warning that if the changes were adopted, he, Faisal and deputy to the secretary-general Santoso would quit the party.

Hatta Rajasa defended the amendments to the statutes, saying the words would not lead the party to sectarianism because the terms were universal and even stipulated in the State Policy Guidelines approved during the People's Consultative Assembly in October last year.

"But we still have to discuss the matter until we come out with the best solution," Hatta said.

Hatta welcomed the difference of opinions, and suggested that voting would be the fairest manner to settle any possible deadlocks.

"Whatever the outcome of the vote, everybody must be mature enough to accept it. Nobody should be brokenhearted," he said, referring to the resignation threat from some executives. (44/edt/swa)