Sat, 25 Mar 2000

PDI Perjuangan needs to fulfill its namesake

On Tuesday, barely a week ahead of the congress of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), the party's central board blocked the candidacy of the main challenger for the chairmanship, Eros Djarot. Hours before he knew of the decision, the musician, film director and publisher talked to The Jakarta Post about his candidacy. An excerpt of the interview follows:

Question: Recent developments like protests against you running as a candidate for the party leadership reflect resistance from within the party. How do you view this resistance?

Answer: I've always feared that several people saying they're acting on behalf of (party chairwoman and Vice President) Megawati Soekarnoputri are those who don't understand the party's struggle in ensuring democratization and meeting the constituency's demands. So they also encounter resistance, not only from myself.

These past two days there have been demonstrations at the headquarters demanding that Megawati be fair and meet demands of democracy (within the party). These indicate that undemocratic attitudes are no longer acceptable.

Q: It's ironic that the party's name bears the word "democratic".

A: It's probably only a few people close to Megawati using the rule of power; many across the country wish that PDI Perjuangan returned to its core, its commitment to democracy.

Q: Are you determined to go ahead with the candidacy?

A: There's no choice; (failure to run) would be betraying the moral responsibility of those involved in developing the party.

We must increase the party's accountability, such as by my running as a candidate, to help Megawati focus more on her task assigned by the people.

Her success as vice president is part of the success of the party members, not the other way around.

Q: Could you elaborate?

A: There are those who say that if she did not become party chairwoman her candidacy for the presidency would be disrupted; while actually her acceptability as a candidate for the presidency would depend on her performance as vice president. Otherwise, it would be impractical to reach the higher post.

Q: What are your reasons for running for the party leadership?

A: As one of those close to Megawati, I've been involved behind the scenes in several of her statements, and now it's time for the party to fulfill its promises. I feel responsible, especially since 1993 (when he was more involved as an adviser -- Ed.). I set up the party's research and development center in 1983.

Q: You said the party should return to its core, while the impression has been that the party relies more on the masses regardless of "democracy"...

A: It viewed itself as an oppressed party; we didn't want totalitarian rule, we demanded democracy which was then not the experience of any political party under Soeharto. Under (former president B.J.) Habibie everything opened up, without a clear understanding between democracy and chaos.

Q: What has yet to be done by the party?

A: First we have to be honest and make some self-criticism.

Several cases cannot be understood -- such as the elections of regional heads (16 PDI Perjuangan members in Medan, North Sumatra, recently resigned on charges of accepting bribes from a candidate for mayor -- Ed.) and the election of the Jakarta legislative council speaker. The speaker was elected from the Indonesian Military (TNI) while we had the largest number of council seats.

These cases prove that many basic commitments we had as the winning party in the elections have been betrayed by those in strategic positions.

Q: Giving the post of Jakarta Council speaker to TNI has been referred to as a political necessity.

A: That's acceptable if we were the victorious party, but we lost in the general session of the People's Consultative Assembly (which elected the president). All these competing interests must end; we only have one aim, which is to make Indonesia win.

I'm concerned about the situation of the day; we have barely reached the stage of overcoming our crisis of confidence.

All political parties lack this sense of crisis. It's as if the nation is staggering on its own while political parties are treading their own paths, without tackling our first priority.

Q: Is that what you mean by making Indonesia win?

A: Well, where are we now as a nation? We've lost almost everything, we're rebuilding from minus, not zero; what are we fighting for? There's no awareness among parties to sit together to discuss problems because they have too many of their own.

Q: Can PDI Perjuangan at least function internally in terms of recruitment?

A: In this situation recruitment is a luxury. It is this populist approach (of the party) which could lead to a dictatorship of the majority.

Actually (upholding democracy) is not too hard given the conducive conditions now, but are (leaders and members) ready to go ahead, are there programs which are easy to follow up on?

Q: What was followed up from the 1998 Bali congress?

A: As usual there are gaps between programs and implementation.

Q: What are the promises yet to be met?

A: PDI Perjuangan is supposed to be a party of the little people. But on crucial cases such as Kartini (an Indonesian maid sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for having a child out of wedlock), the plight of farmers, fisherpeople and workers, we have not issued any political statements.

As the winning party we should be the initiator on such issues, and issue policies, or at least be the strongest voice.

Q: It seems PDI Perjuangan's sensitivity is limited to the violent attack on its headquarters on July 27, 1996.

A: Unfortunately, the party is still focused on romanticism and has emotional space only for its own affairs. This must end.

There is actually a shift in paradigm from the perception of an oppressed party to the ruling party, so we need a new set of elements, components and structure.

Political parties are used to being on the periphery; the time needed to adapt mind-sets has been too short. This is the transitional period which we need to understand.

Q: Why do you now see it's your time to come forward?

A: Because of the reality reflecting the dreams we had; the only thing to do is say to yourself, this is the time; I can work without having any position but this is out of moral responsibility. As the nurse of a baby who you helped to deliver, you just can't sit still while it makes everyone dizzy.

Q: Was there a time when those around Megawati pressured her into not working with you anymore?

A: I was among the confidants so I don't talk... maybe she needed people to talk to, to avoid a leak of strategies... what becomes a problem is when rumors develop. There are those in the headquarters who know a lot but now act as if they don't, it's OK... This convinced me even more of the vested interests, which are becoming more obvious.

This has to be made aware to the public so that people in the party may want to help and not blame the entire party.

Q: Are such problems caused by a mentality of treating political parties like business "projects"?

A: There are those who want to make the party grow, and those who wish to see themselves grow for access to politics, economics ...

Q: How would you go about cleaning up the party of such people?

A: There aren't really many of them -- we have many professionals who believe we can make it as long as we agree on our commitment to the constituency.

Q: How many of such committed people are there?

A: Under Soeharto, it seemed everyone in the Cabinet was loyal to him, and many turned out to belong to the silent majority. Those who keep silent today doesn't mean they agree with the leaders.

Megawati is very strong, I guarantee she's clean but maybe people want more: the firmness of a political policy, whereas there are formal and also nonformal policies adopted at the regional levels. Hence the dualism and political interests.

Q: So what would you do in cleaning up the party of people lacking the necessary commitment?

A: We would replace them, telling them they're now a liability. That's only possible through the congress, as a forum for change. With Megawati we want to help improve the party. It would be ahistorical to remove her, she is needed as a symbol but does it have to be as the party chairwoman?

That would be a political liability for her candidacy as president because party affairs would be her responsibility. She had better chair the party's legislative body which is more strategic, it can veto party decisions.

Then the congress could name her the party's sole candidate for the next president, with the emphasis that this would depend on her performance as vice president. So separating these two positions of the VP and party leadership would improve synergy.

Q: The party bears the contradictory image of being "democratic" while being accused of worshiping an individual...

A: I believe the worship of an individual (kultus individu) is done by those who deliberately cut off information and fan emotions of people blinded by that lack of information. The central symbol of PDI Perjuangan is (first president) Sukarno.

Reducing that symbol to Megawati is dangerous because she's still in a historical process, while Bung Karno is already a historical symbol embodying nationalism.

My vision is to bring PDI Perjuangan to be a modern and open democratic party which understands the nation's issues and its identity, based on democracy.

The public should not worry; we have many good cadres but they didn't get any seats. I believe PDI Perjuangan is the only party which succeeded in drawing up an economic platform together with world level experts. But we couldn't execute it; we didn't get the portfolio Ministry of Finance.

Q: The Office of the State Minister of Investment and State Enterprises Development is also strategic...

A: Yes, in the sense of reviving sources of revenue controlled by the state, but not in the sense of controlling traffic and policy in the context of finance which is basic at this time of the lowest point of confidence ...

It's most important to have a professional Cabinet; but we've paid a high price for the time needed for the Cabinet members to learn, so Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman Wahid) and Megawati also need time in getting to grips with the coordination pattern.

Q: How do you judge the performance of your party legislators?

A: We have a number of good people but then there are others defending Nursalim, Texmaco (against corruption allegations) ... Unfortunately, some of these people are close to Megawati. It has been a dilemma for us in identifying who we're siding with.

But in general we can believe we can (improve the party) with the support of Megawati if she is willing.

Q: Is Megawati like Gus Dur, listening to anyone of her choice and deciding on her own nowadays?

A: The difference is that Gus Dur is very quick in making decisions from whatever information he chooses and Megawati is very slow -- so that's something we should interpret as something which needs help.

Whatever the result of the elections, it was democratic... but we should be supportive by providing criticism.

Q: With only a few days to the congress are you prepared? What if you're not chosen as chairman?

A: As usual, we're prepared in the Indonesian sense ... which has become part of our political culture. My existence is not determined by whether or not I become chairman; my thoughts can fill spaces inside and outside the party. What's important is that a good party cadre should be a good cadre of the nation.

I will be continuously helping not only PDI Perjuangan but other organizations and parties considered to oppose us.

We used to only fuss about ourselves, forgetting that others were also important for building our democracy. The single majority built by the ruling Golkar Party led to the collapse of the nation; so such narrow-mindedness is no longer needed.

Today's situation is very sad; there is this stance of "if PDI Perjuangan leads us to the edge of the cliff, then we'll just replace it". While if we topple over, so does our democracy.

There is no awareness that PDI Perjuangan is an asset of the nation; like it or not, it's a historical given. All parties should be watching out for each other.

Q: How would you be helping others while some are quite hostile to those known as secular nationalists that PDI Perjuangan represents?

A: I am a friend of Akbar Tandjung, Amien Rais, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Matori Abdul Djalil, so-called extremists, so what? That is such a temporary, political issue, can we really be judged by religious symbols?

We are more of a religious and romantic society, we have all these superstitions, demons and witch doctors. It would take quite some time for us to become a nationalist secular people.

Indeed we must respect the majority who are Muslims ... but nationalism brings about the need for objective competition across religions, ethnic groups and racial lines. Such sensitivities are not common in the party yet.

Like in other parties, a sense of crisis is lacking, with politicians even adding to the vulnerable condition by raising sensitive issues ... politicians are enjoying boxing in a very slippery ring where no one wins.

Q: Are there people in the party who want you to become secretary-general if the chairmanship is not feasible?

A: That's not important. Basic principals must first be agreed to -- the party leaders and intellectuals must first answer what the party wants and where is it heading ... only then should we raise suitable names for the party's executive, legislative and judiciary posts. We could even agree to disagree, that would still be a dignified decision.

Q: Why is the congress held so soon after the earlier one in 1998?

A: Exactly. Megawati's earlier speech to party members was that if she became president she would no longer belong only to party members but to the whole nation. There's really no need for a congress; the one in Bali gave Megawati the power to do anything necessary, even change those in the party headquarters, without having to go through a congress, as long as the measures were in line with the party statutes.

Initially the conversation I had with Megawati was that the upcoming congress (in Semarang) would be to hand over the leadership to whoever was deemed fit.

This is the first congress of PDI Perjuangan (the Bali congress changed the party name from PDI). This means cutting the historical journey of the party, with the consequence that its identity should be clear.

Q: If you had the authority, would you continue what seems to be the party's policy of accommodating members from any group, including retired military officers?

A: In an open party anyone deemed fit should be accommodated. Nationalism should not be the monopoly of the party, it should be spread to others so we don't get alienated like we did in the general session. That was a mistake in strategy.

Retired officers are normal citizens again; our only requirement is that they don't bring in militarism, which we even have signs of in the party. We're not against the military but against militarism. And if the military loses its political role in 2004 we don't want their political interests riding on us.

So we are ready, not to win or lose but to renew and rebuild the party spirit.

Q: You said support is coming in from Kalimantan, Sulawesi; is it the majority of party branches there?

A: Many have phoned saying they support me. The real victory for me would be the growth of awareness. Becoming chairman would only be a bonus.

Q: Party executive Mochtar Buchori has noted that while district levels may aspire for change, at the village level they still want Megawati as chairwoman...

A: Not really, if you ask a villager he'll say what's important is that Megawati becomes president, the symbol of the arrival of the Ratu Adil (provider of justice). It's the people around her that need her as chairwoman for access to the party and to the presidency. So we're determined to lead PDI Perjuangan for the better. (hbk/anr)