Tue, 11 Mar 2003

PDI-P discusses future at plush hotel

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) began a three-day national meeting on Monday aimed at keeping its support base intact ahead of the 2004 elections.

The party's research and development department head Kwik Kian Gie said the meeting was critical for the party as it would test whether it would be able to win back its supporters to win the general elections for the second straight time.

"We are all gathering here to answer the challenges the party is facing. We have learned so far that our supporters at the regional level are still committed to fighting (for PDI Perjuangan)," Kwik said on the sidelines of the meeting, which was opened by chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri, who is also the President.

The gathering of 800 people from 374 constituencies at a five- star hotel began against a backdrop of widespread disappointment among party supporters with Megawati's leadership style. Controversy between party leaders, the latest involving Kwik, and between the party's central board and its provincial chapters over gubernatorial candidates signaled the party's fragile position ahead of 2004, when Indonesia will hold its first direct elections for a president and House of Representatives members.

Megawati's preference of gubernatorial candidates in Jakarta, Lampung and West Java, the party's strongholds, have drawn protests for undermining the will and choice of local party chapters.

PDI Perjuangan won 34 percent of the vote during the 1999 elections, but Megawati lost the presidential election to Abdurrahman Wahid, whose National Awakening Party only came fourth in the polls.

Kwik, who is the State Minister for National Development Planning in Megawati's cabinet, admitted the party had distanced itself from its supporters after assuming power.

"I don't have to say it anymore, because it has become a general perception among people anywhere, anytime," Kwik said when asked of the apparent gap between the party and its constituents. "That is why we are here to answer the challenge."

Kwik said the problem was to some extent a result of rampant corruption plaguing the party.

He did not elaborate, saying he would present his concept on corruption eradication to the floor on Tuesday.

A few weeks back Kwik sparked controversy with his statement that PDI Perjuangan was the most corrupt political party in the country. No less than fellow cabinet ministers and PDI Perjuangan executives Jacob Nuwa Wea and Laksamana Sukardi demanded Kwik's dismissal.

Megawati reconciled Kwik and his critics, after the outspoken minister admitted that the way he had expressed his opinion was improper.

Kwik said there were demands for Megawati to focus on the state jobs, to keep the party interests intact.

"Mega became the president because she had to as Gus Dur had to step down. But for 2004, it might not be possible for Mega to become both president and PDI Perjuangan chairwoman," Kwik said.

Megawati assumed the presidency from Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid after he was dismissed by the People's Consultative Assembly in July 2001.

"The PDI Perjuangan Congress is expected in 2005 and the election in 2004. It's not possible to hold an extraordinary meeting this year as we must prepare for the election. Once she becomes president (in 2004), she must be replaced as the party chairwoman," Kwik said.

But another party executive, Pramono Anung Wibowo, dismissed the possibility of an extraordinary meeting to replace Megawati as its chairwoman.

In her opening speech Megawati said the meeting was being held at a five-star hotel in an attempt to test party executives' ability to resist corruption.

"It rarely happens (PDI Perjuangan holds an event) in hotels. This time we try to put them in the hotel to test whether they are ready (to defy corruption desires) as there are shopping centers around here."

The meeting is being held at Shangri-La hotel in central Jakarta, where a standard room costs US$130 plus tax.