Mon, 07 Feb 2000

PAN's first congress set to devise new political strategy

The National Mandate Party (PAN) entered the 1999 general elections with a bold program advocating inclusiveness of all groups in society, but only gained 7.12 percent of votes in the polls. Ahead of the party's first congress in Yogyakarta on Feb. 10-13, The Jakarta Post interviewed the chairman of the National Mandate Party at the provincial legislative council, Imawan Wahyudi. The following is an excerpt of the interview:

Question: What is the main agenda of PAN's first congress?

Answer: First, it will elect a new party chairman and a new central executive board. Second, it will devise the party program for the next five years. Third, there would be some adjustment but no significant change to the party's basic platform.

The party's basic principle (azas) may become a separate agenda. Pak Amien (PAN chairman Amien Rais) has said that the central board's plenary meeting decided to maintain its present basic principle as an open party -- based on Pancasila (state ideology). Yet some PAN activists have thoughts of changing or modifying the party's basic principle into "faith and devotion" (iman dan taqwa), or even Islam. However, I believe most activists want the party to remain an open party.

How did you reach such a conclusion?

I have had the opportunity to visit many parts of the country. As a functionary of Muhammadiyah (formerly chaired by Amien), I often interview Muhammadiyah activists who are also active in PAN. The wish to keep PAN as an open party is still prevalent. But anything could happen in the near future.

I think Indonesia needs more open parties to encompass all the nation's components, to reflect integration.

In reality there are communities demanding an exclusive identity. Of course there would be some differences, in a positive sense, between the open and the exclusive parties.

With serious religious tension proliferating from the Maluku violence, wouldn't retaining an open party hamper efforts to get more Muslim voters active in the next election?

In a community where disintegration is a threat, openness is what we need. ... That's the ideal. But pragmatism must be bolstered by wisdom, particularly regarding Maluku. It was such a thought that led Amien to participate in the recent "One Million" gathering (which President Abdurrahman Wahid suggested was an attempt to topple him).

(The Maluku tragedy) is a problem that needs attention, to give concerned people the sense of caring (ngayomi) and comfort (ngayemi). Expressing care means reaching out to them, and preventing them from doing anything further from political expressions. ... Giving them comfort will increase peace. We need to do so. Otherwise, they may resort to a much stronger action.

We cannot deny the real condition in Maluku. It's very unwise to say that the (gathering) was as an effort to remove the president and vice president. It's not educating.

There are growing public allegations that Amien Rais and PAN have become sectarian. How do you see it?

That depends on implementation. It's quite impossible for PAN to see what's happening in Maluku and do nothing about it. Muslims are the majority here and frankly speaking it was not Muslims who initiated the conflict. It is PAN's moral accountability to show sympathy for Muslims there. Such allegations (that the gathering to express solidarity was an attempt to topple the president) comes from those who ignore people's demands.

One cannot consider PAN as sectarian or exclusive just because of pak Amien's statements on Maluku. He has not been concerned only about the victims of the violence, but has repeatedly emphasized the need to reintegrate the whole nation.

Would the decision to remain an open party stem from the fact that Islam-based parties gained few votes in the last polls?

As far as I know, although Islam is the majority in Indonesia, a more strict identification is not popular. A recent survey of Muslims who agreed with the application of Islamic law showed that only 5 percent of all respondents agreed.

I myself see it difficult to explain why Islamic parties received few votes. Yet, one thing is certain, there is no balancing between Islam and politics in the country. Politics is perceived more as a worldly matter while religion is a heavenly one.

For Muslims with a deeper understanding about Islam, actualizing Islam in politics and power is a must. Once a Muslim is in politics, he or she must apply Islamic values. Ignoring Islamic values would result in low level politics.

How will PAN anticipate non-Muslim voters?

Such a problem has indeed come out in the regions where Muslims are not the majority. One advantage of being an open party is that it is proportionally tolerant. We wouldn't have Muslim representatives in areas where non-Muslims are the majority.

By proclaiming the substance of Islam in PAN, wouldn't this justify allegations of PAN being more Islamic?

I use the Islam terminology here to relate to substance. The official terminology in our platform is religious morality.

What strategy is used to maintain the party's openness?

We have seen at the elite level that there is no problem with an open party. Pak Amien, for example, was successful in forming the axis force (political alliance with Islamic parties).

We will show that with such openness we have many strategic chances to contribute more to the nation. One is through the axis force ... An open party, as I said before, is also a strategic answer for a community facing the threat of disintegration. It also serves as a forum of discourse for society.

It's true that we gained few votes in the election. Yet we could also see a large appreciation for the party from larger parties such as Golkar and other Islamic parties.

Wasn't it more because of Amien Rais rather than PAN?

You cannot separate Amien Rais from PAN. PAN is pak Amien and vice versa. It's hard to conceive of someone accepting pak Amien but not the party he chairs.

Is that why Yogyakarta's PAN will re-nominate Amien Rais for party chairman?

That's right. I don't see any suitable candidate other than pak Amien. First, he is a magnet to reunite all elements in PAN. As an open party, PAN needs a forceful magnet for its unity. Second, pak Amien is also the adhesive between Islamic parties and open parties like Golkar. Who knows if in the future the National Awakening Party (PKB) will also move closer to us?

Bara Hasibuan, head of PAN's foreign affairs department, has said that as Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly Amien would be too busy to carry out his job as the party's chairman. Your comment?

Technically the vice president is busier. I don't think it would be a problem for pak Amien. ... You should realize that his energy is 10 to 20 times that of the average person. He rests little, has a very tight schedule and ... almost all his time is serving the public interest.

But statements like that of Bara's may indicate there would be PAN activists who would reject Amien's renomination as chairman.

That's right, but the answer to a rejection would be what I just said. It's also obvious that everything Amien does automatically increases the party's good image.

Which regions will likely nominate Amien and which will name other candidates?

The percentage of those not nominating pak Amien could be ... less than 10 percent. People will refer to the nominee's quality. Irianese, for example, know who has been struggling for their economical and political justice. They respect Amien not because of his religion but because the goals for which he is struggling.

What is the chance of the incumbent Faisal Basri for Secretary General?

We have so many candidates. Faisal is a good person. The fact that his political view is different from that of Amien's is not uncommon. It's quite possible that ahead of the congress he will be among main supporters of Amien's candidacy as party chairman.

It's also possible that he will get the secretary general position for the second time if he can assure the party's activists that he can work side by side with the elected chairman.

That is what is now important. Also, that the secretary general should be able to interpret the chairman's political ideas as the secretary general's position is quite strategic. It's like that of minister of home affairs.

How will PAN assure that the current wide differences in political views between the party chairman and secretary general will not occur in the future?

In an open party like PAN, differences can be said to be a must. "Mono-loyalty" would become a weakness. Differences are okay, as long as there is no dual chairmanship.

How would PAN answer the growing allegation that PAN is more like the Muhammadiyah Islamic organization formerly led by Amien, than an open party?

It's all right -- as long as it is Muhammadiyah in the sense of the contribution of organization members, the way they organize the party and the way they run the party. If we, in Yogyakarta, ignore Muhammadiyah, it would mean we are ignoring the majority. Frankly speaking, Muhammadiyah contributes a great deal to the province's political character. If we ignore Muhammadiyah here we would be surely refused, it would be like using a different language from the community.

What is your objective in the congress?

We want it to be a success. We want it to be able to devise the party's strategic position and thought in a smooth, peaceful and orderly manner. It's silly to use a congress just to successfully make someone a secretary general.

Will the Yogyakarta chapter recommend nominating Amien Rais for the next presidential election?

We have not yet decided that. But nominating the party chairman as president has become the tradition here, hasn't it? (Sri Wahyuni)