Sat, 27 Jul 1996

'Soeharto backing Soerjadi does not end PDI dispute'

JAKARTA (JP): A noted political observer has said that the leadership conflict ravaging the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) has not been solved by President Soeharto's endorsement of new party chairman Soerjadi.

Arbi Sanit, a staff lecturer at the University of Indonesia's School of Social and Political Sciences, said that the two opposing camps in the conflict -- Soerjadi's and ousted chief Megawati Soekarnoputri's -- were equally defective.

He asserted that the "PDI no longer exists, because each of the two rival camps has its own handicaps."

Arbi, who is often critical of the government, said he believed the party's leadership was wrested from Megawati through a coup held by a group of party dissenters in their government- backed congress in Medan, North Sumatra, last month.

He also said that the legitimacy of a political party's leadership did not rest solely on a government endorsement.

Soerjadi may enjoy the government's endorsement, but Megawati still has strong support from grassroots members which is a source of legitimacy, he said: Therefore, "the leadership of Megawati is still legitimate."

Two other political observers, however, believe that Megawati was "finished" when President Soeharto received Soerjadi on Thursday. Even though the meeting gave Soerjadi the final official seal of approval, Soeharto told Soerjadi to handle the differences within the party.

"Everybody should know that it's the political reality here. If a person is received by the President, then he's got an immense source of legitimacy," said Afan Gaffar, a political science lecturer at the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

"Megawati is finished; temporarily, though," he said. He did not elaborate.

Kahar Badjuri of the Diponegoro University in Semarang seconded Afan's opinion, adding that it was time for Megawati and her supporters to take a break and contemplate.

"They still have a long struggle ahead of them for the party, politics and democracy in general," he said.

The party's conflict has been ongoing for about three years since the election of Megawati by popular vote in 1993. The differences came to ahead earlier this month when a group of party dissenters organized the rebel congress.

Megawati, the eldest daughter of Indonesia's late first president Sukarno, has rejected the congress as illegal, and has insisted that she is still the party's legitimate leader. One of her staunchest supporters, Kwik Kian Gie, said yesterday that the final decision on the legality of the leadership could only be made by the courts.

"Until the courts rule otherwise, Megawati's leadership remains legitimate," Kwik said.

Megawati raised a nationwide legal storm earlier this month by filing 306 simultaneous lawsuits against participants of the Medan congress.

Arbi expressed pessimism on the lawsuit's outcome. "The court ruling can be predicted even now," he said. However, "the lawsuits represent a fight through which at least public opinion can be heard."

Afan and Kahar agreed that Megawati had every right to pursue a legal course against Soerjadi and her other political rivals. However, "if she persists, given the current conditions, it means that she's opposing the government," Afan said.

"This is an entirely different matter," he said. (14/imn/har)