Mon, 29 Aug 1994

PPP and leadership

Political congresses are more about the elections of its new chairperson than they are a platform for announcing its programs for the future. The United Development Party (PPP), which opens its congress in Jakarta today, is no exception.

In this case, however, the party is not solely to be blamed. Both the PPP and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) have long complained that they have been denied freedom to introduce their programs at the grassroots level.

This apparently is the reason why discussion about the PPP lately has centered around the efforts to unseat the current chairman, Ismail Hasan Metareum. Many party activists have accused him of being too establishment-oriented, and thus lacking in the qualities of a populist leader which the party badly needs today. Such people think he pales in comparison to Harmoko, the chairman of the government Golkar party who is also Minister of Information, and Megawati Soekarnoputri, the PDI chairwoman, who is also a daughter of the late president Sukarno.

Many PPP supporters have been worried about Ismail's style of leadership, and veteran campaigners of the party have even voiced concern that the PPP, which traditionally enjoyed the support from Moslems, will be in danger of becoming the smallest party in the world's largest Moslem country, if Ismail continues to occupy the top spot.

Although his re-election depends on many factors, the record shows that during his five years of leadership, the PPP has become increasingly less sensitive towards many social and political issues. During the 1992 general election Ismail failed to lead the party to recoup the loss of 33 of its 94 parliamentary seats in the 1987 polls, when Jailany Naro led the PPP.

The most serious problem faced by the party during the last five years is its identity crisis. The PPP, which used to function by Islamic fiat, has failed to adopt any identity since it was forced by law to bring its ideological basis in line with Pancasila, the state ideology, in 1983. Unlike Golkar and the PDI, the PPP has starkly failed to show what it stands for politically.

The lack of grassroots orientation together with Ismail's leadership have also hurt the PPP's young Turks, who are led by Sri Bintang Pamungkas. Sri Bintang himself has announced his intention of challenging Ismail in the election.

On the other hand, the authorities seem quite pleased with Ismail's political attitude and leadership style. Few doubt that they wish to see him remain at his post. Although the government has said that it will not intervene in the PPP's congress, the way it sympathizes with Ismail will surely influence the election of PPP's new leadership.

This is inseparable from the government's policy of basing all of its programs upon stability. Ismail seems the PPP politician most likely to support this principle because over the past five years he has never been heard to criticize any of the government's measures. He even went so far as to declare his full understanding with the government's recent decision to ban three leading magazines.

Ironically, his re-election chances look more certain with each passing day since no strong candidates have emerged to challenge him from within both the NU and MI, the strongest factions within the party.