Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Tobing, survives with consistency

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Many say the difference between a statesman and a politician lies in how they treat life. The statesman defines it as a breeze, whereas the politician just goes with the flow, while sometimes fueling it into a hurricane.

Debatable as it may be, this simplified notion fits in perfectly with how Indonesian politicians are crowding the country's reform stage following the downfall of the 32-year authoritarian regime of former president Soeharto.

One with apt political and leadership skills, such as Jakob Samuel Halomoan Lumban Tobing, is rare, making the humble legislator of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) stand out from the rest.

Being a politician for almost 40 years is not the only reason Jakob Tobing was entrusted to play a leading role in the People's Consultative Assembly team in charge of amending the 1945 Constitution.

On top of this responsibility, he was elected chairman of Commission A in the ongoing Annual Session of the Assembly, which is tasked with finalizing the fourth draft of the amendment.

It is his faith in democracy that keeps his spirit aflame as a politician. He began his political career as a student activist in 1963. Thanks to his consistency, he remains an important figure in the reform era.

Tobing made his way to the House of Representatives in 1968 at the age of 25 as a representative of students.

He was a cofounder of Golongan Karya, a functional group which served a political party and was used by Soeharto as his political base.

Some Golkar functionaries, Tobing was one of them, became disappointed when Soeharto changed his stance to an Islamic group and accommodated the Association of Muslim Scholars (ICMI) in Golkar.

Soeharto's change of stance allowed the Islamic group to control Golkar, giving it the nickname ijo royo-royo (totally green) -- the color associated with Muslim groups.

"We reformists within Golkar told Pak Harto we would go our separate ways and would continue our reform agenda. He thanked us for our criticism and said he hoped for cooperation. But his cronies treated us like enemies of the state," Tobing recalled.

In 1993, Jakob bid farewell to Golkar, after rejecting Soeharto's repeated offers for ministerial and ambassadorial posts. Golkar, however, maintained his membership, as his close friends staked the claim that "Golkar is Jakob, and Jakob is Golkar".

He still befriended Golkar leaders while he kept his critical stand. When Akbar Tandjung was elected Golkar chairman in 1998 he wrote Tandjung, asking him to reform the party.

"It (quitting Golkar) was a difficult decision because I co- founded it, but I had to do it because I saw Golkar going off the tracks that founding fathers had laid down for it.

"Nobody knew the future of my career then, but I won't look back because I am used to going through difficult times," said the soft-spoken father of four. He is married to Adriana Sihotang.

Along with big names such as Megawati Soekarnoputri, Frans Seda, Abdurrahman Wahid, Kwik Kian Gie, Marzuki Darusman, Widjanarko Puspojo and Bambang Prihantoro, Tobing formed the National Brotherhood Foundation (YKPK) in 1995. The foundation promotes a peaceful means of political struggle.

The violent internal rivalry within the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) led Tobing to come to terms with the party led by Megawati. When military-backed rival party activists attacked Megawati's party headquarters in Jakarta on July 27, 1996, YKPK lent its support to her cause.

When the fall of Soeharto prompted a political euphoria marked by the mushrooming of political parties, Megawati approached Tobing and together rejuvenated and renamed her party PDI Perjuangan.

Brought up in a devout Protestant family by his father Heinrich Lumban Tobing and mother Ria Saur Hutagalung in Kotabaru, Riau, on July 13, 1943, he spent most of his childhood with eight siblings in the Riau islands and Bukittinggi, North Sumatra.

After finishing high school in Bandung, he continued his studies at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), majoring in architecture engineering. He received his master's degree in economic and political studies from Harvard University in the United States in early 80s.

As the chairman of the Indonesian Election Committee, his political foes accused him of rigging the 1999 elections in favor of PDI Perjuangan. He is also alleged to have hampered the constitutional amendment.

But Jacob maintains a cool composure.

"I refrain from saying any words or making gestures in my defense that may offend others," he said, adding that he respects differences in opinion as a part of democracy.

Tobing has a piece of advice for younger politicians: "Read a lot of books, any topics on humanity and human relations with God and balance it with a lot of chit-chats with others to broaden your knowledge and sharpen your skills as well as building good relationships".

"Now is the right time to learn to become a good politician because we are in the process of making history in this reform era," he said.

Even though he admires Indonesia's founding fathers Sukarno and M. Hatta as well as U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, Tobing said he did not want to copy them.

"I keep enriching myself with knowledge and wisdom. With that, I can be myself," Tobing said.