Wed, 24 Aug 1994

PPP candidates shy away from open debate

JAKARTA (JP): A scheduled public debate among leading candidates for the upcoming chairmanship election in the United Development Party (PPP) was severely watered down yesterday when a number of the important figures failed to show up.

Only two did come to the debate -- Sri Bintang Pamungkas and Mathori Abdul Djalil.

The gathering was organized by a group of political journalists and held at the Press Council Building.

Incumbent chairman Ismail Hasan Metareum, who will give an account of his leadership in the party's five-year elections next week and is seeking another term, turned down the invitation, citing a meeting he had to attend at the House of Representatives (DPR).

The Jayakarta daily, however, quoted an unidentified source as saying that there was no meeting scheduled for yesterday at the DPR.

The other aspirants who failed to turn up were Hamzah Haz, Yusuf Hasyim, Karmani, Cholil Badlawi, Hartono Mardjono, Husnie Thamrin, Yudo Paripurno and H.M. Dault.

Recent press reports have indicated an intensifying split as many leaders of the Moslem-based party jockey for positions and launch attacks against one another.

Bintang, for example, has demanded that Ismail Hasan and his secretary-general Mathori Abdul Djalil step out of the race because they have "failed" to improve the party's performance.

Mathori defended himself yesterday, saying he has been chosen as the party's fall guy but would nevertheless continue to show integrity.

Last week, Mathori blamed Ismail for the party's poor showing in the last election, while Ismail criticized Bintang for attempting to bend the party's regulations in order to enter the race for the chairmanship.

Supporters loyal to Ismail Hasan have helped heighten the tension by accusing Bintang of "biting the hand that fed him".

Bintang was recruited, and later posted at the House of Representatives, by Ismail Hasan and his supporters as the party's vote getter.

The dialog yesterday was organized by a number of reporters who actively cover domestic political issues. It was expected to present a lively debate as the chairman aspirants presented their individual programs and visions.

"We want to cultivate a tradition of openness," said one of the journalists, Sururi Al Farouq.

Not the programs

During the dialog yesterday, rather than concentrating on delineating their specific programs for PPP, Mathori and Bintang tried to outdo one another in modesty. Both refused to firmly declare that they are actively seeking chairmanship.

"I did not nominate myself. I was chosen as candidate by a number of people," said Bintang, citing a surge of "undercurrents", or the urging by the party's rank and file as the factor which convinced him to run. He formally announced his intention to run on Sunday.

"I did not and would never nominate myself," Mathori said. "Asking for positions is not a very Islamic thing to do. However, if people ask me to take up a position, then it becomes amanah (mandate)."

Mathori has claimed to have the support of many kyai, or Moslem scholars, from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) organization, one of PPP's four factions, which boasts some 35 million followers.

The kyai, under the leadership of KH Syansuri Badlawi, have not formally announced their candidate but have hinted that they favored Mathori over other NU figures, including Hamzah Haz.

Both Mathori and Bintang also tried to display to the journalists that their current campaign for positions was motivated by their concern for the people.

"I am one of the people, I came from among the small people of a small village in Salatiga," Mathori said, referring to a town in Central Java, which did not have electricity until two years ago.

Vowing to defend Moslems and disadvantaged people, Bintang claimed that, even if he lost the race, he would continue his struggle. "I'll spend the rest of my life for that goal."

Yesterday's discussion was also used by the two aspirants to compare their experiences. "I entered PPP from the lowest rung of the leadership ladder, and waited for years before I got the secretary-general seat," Mathori said.

Bintang countered by saying that he had been politically active even before he was recruited into the party. Some political analysts have said that Bintang has little chance of winning because his term of service in the party is not long enough to meet the requirements for the chairmanship. (swe)