Sat, 31 May 2003

PKB names Gus Dur presidential candidate

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Awakening Party (PKB) concluded its three-day national meeting late on Thursday by naming its chief patron, Abdurrahman Wahid, its presidential candidate.

However, it is too early to say whether Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, is supported by the whole party, as PKB is also prepared to pick other presidential candidates from inside or outside the party.

Muhammad A.S. Hikam, head of the meeting's steering committee and PKB deputy chairman, said several alternative figures had been mentioned during the meeting.

"Other names will be made public by the PKB executive board, but it depends on how things develop," Hikam told reporters after the closing ceremony of the national meeting.

A number of provincial chapters had touted Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) chairman Hasyim Muzadi and Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as presidential aspirants.

Hasyim's nomination was proposed by NU clerics who claimed to represent 30 provincial chapters of the country's largest Muslim organization.

Hikam refused to reveal the reason why the alternative candidates had not been announced, but sources said the decision was a compromise to appease potential conflict between Gus Dur and his opponents.

However, Hasyim later played down the support, saying he would only accept his nomination for the presidency if he was supported by both the PKB and the executive board of the NU.

Gus Dur's presidential bid is facing a serious challenge as the presidential election bill currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives requires candidates to be of sound mind and body. Gus Dur has impaired eyesight following two minor strokes in the past.

The presidential elections bill is expected to be passed approximately in June this year.

If the House passes the health requirement, then Gus Dur's candidacy would be jeopardized.

If this occurs, PKB will likely name others as its presidential candidates.

The PKB national meeting also asserted that any executive and legislative candidates in the 2004 general election must have the consent of NU ulemas.

Meanwhile, the executive board of the PKB announced a plan to appeal a court decision that ruled unlawful the 2001 dismissal of Matori Abdul Djalil by Gus Dur as PKB chairman last year.

Matori was fired after he attended the Special Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) in 2001, which led to Gus Dur's removal as president. According to the judges, Matori's presence was acceptable as he was also an MPR deputy speaker at that time.

Alwi was named Matori's replacement and made the party's leader later that year.

Matori also founded his own PKB, sparking a legal dispute between him and Gus Dur loyalists.

PKB under Matori sprang a surprise by naming Gus Dur its presidential candidate, which Gus Dur immediately turned down.