Thursday, June 05, 2008

The PKB's unfinished business: Changing the nation

Thu, 05/29/2008 10:34 AM | Headlines

The National Awakening Party (PKB) was recently shaken by an internal dispute after chairman of the party's executive body, Muhaimin Iskandar, was dismissed from his position, first in a vote at the party's leadership meeting and then at its extraordinary congress. The PKB faction led by Muhaimin also held an extraordinary congress maintaining his leadership. Secretary-general of the other PKB faction, Zannuba "Yenny" Arifah Chafsoh Rahman Wahid, accompanied by newly appointed chairman Ali Masykur Musa and a number of party executives, met with The Jakarta Post on Tuesday to discuss the party's situation and its preparations for next year's general elections. Following are excerpts from the interview.

Question:Is it true that conflicts within the PKB occur because Gus Dur (patron board chairman Abdurrahman Wahid) is too dominant?

Answer: As the PKB is a party that depends on a charismatic figure, it is true that Gus Dur is a dominant figure. But the dismissal of Muhaimin Iskandar demonstrates that is not the case because Gus Dur in fact has been too kind to Muhaimin. Gus Dur has repeatedly made excuses for him, and as a result the conflict was drawn out and was only resolved early this month.

The conflict started about two and a half years ago. Within the PKB faction at the House of Representatives Muhaimin continuously opposed the party policies and Gus Dur had repeatedly warned him during PKB central board meetings.

For example, the PKB faction issued statements that contradicted the party policy, so Gus Dur then had to call press conferences to deny the statements. In the Lapindo (mudflow) case, the PKB is the only party insisting on using the House's interpellation right to question the government over the case. But Muhaimin, as one of the House leaders, gave in to lobbying so our intention to interpellate the government was halted.

That was until this month when Gus Dur said he could not work with Muhaimin anymore. He called for party leaders to make a decision.

He said if the meeting ultimately decided to uphold Muhaimin's position, he would take his own steps. Taking Gus Dur's statement as a warning he would resign, members at the meeting came up with several options. One was to hold an extraordinary meeting and another was for Muhaimin to resign.

Before those at the meeting voted, Muhaimin was asked whether he would accept the group's decision. He said it was up to Gus Dur.

Obviously more than two-thirds of the meeting attendants chose to dismiss Muhaimin. The decision was legitimate because although our statute stipulates that the party's executive chairman (Tanfidzh) is elected through a muktamar (congress) and can only be dismissed through the same forum, the statute also stipulates that an executive chairman can be tentatively suspended through a lower level of (leadership) meeting. The definitive dismissal of Muhaimin was later taken in the extraordinary muktamar.

The problem only arose later when Muhaimin was instigated by his friends to hold a national board meeting. Only a few members of the party's central board and representatives of provincial chapters attended the meeting and no members of the party's Syuro (patron) council attended the meeting.

The presence of Syuro council members is important because they are the highest authority in the party. The Tanfidz council is the executive.

As a consequence, all activities done without the Syuro council's approval are illegal. The extraordinary meeting held by Muhaimin's group in Ancol was also illegitimate.

What if the court ruling (on the PKB leadership dispute) favors Muhaimin's camp?

It will be a blatant robbery. It would be nonsense if we were annulled. We have all the things to be considered legitimate. In fact, this case shouldn't even have gone to court. The Justice and Human Rights Ministry should only verify whether we have complied with all of party statutes or not. But they don't seem to want to bother themselves. Actually, we could sue them (the ministry) in court for their inertia but that is what they want. If we did, it would take a long time and we could be late for registration (for the 2009 elections).

Why has the PKB nominated Gus Dur for the 2009 presidential election?

First of all because politically we want to accomplish the mission of bringing about change to the nation. And change can only be accomplished by a brave leader. This country has been too much co-opted by foreign powers. This situation needs to be corrected.

Gus Dur has been trying to release Indonesia from the Washington Consensus by conducting capital registration. It was one of the policies to make sure the outflow of money is under control, which opposes the IMF recipe.

The second reason why we nominated Gus Dur is a philosophical one. We want to teach the nation not to be discriminatory. If Gus Dur, who is well known as an anti-discrimination advocate, could be discriminated against because he is blind, how must things be for other minorities in this country?

There is no legal basis to exclude Gus Dur. We don't care about the result of the election, it's more important to give Gus Dur his political right.

So if anyone says that we thirst for power, indeed, we do thirst for power. But we thirst for power because with power we could do more to bring about changes to this nation. How can we bring about changes if we don't have power?

Why did you agree to become one of President Yudhoyono's special staff? But why did you quit later?

I had to make a statement that I was personally motivated to become a presidential staff member.

Initially I believed SBY could become a solution to this nation but later I came to realize that he is only a liability.

I started to have a lot of arguments with other staff members. We are so different in our perspectives on so many things including the Lapindo case, the National Exam and many other things.

It was also difficult for me to provide the President with any suggestions, advice or reports.

At first we met with the President once a week, later twice a week and then once a month. In these 30-minute meetings we only had about three minutes each to speak because so many people were present. What could we say in three minutes?

Later on I wasn't invited to the meeting anymore, so I put my suggestions in writing, but unfortunately they didn't get to the President's hand.

I feel that I was undervalued. They only asked me to write books. I had no authority, no facilities. I was complaining a lot. I had no desk for a long time so I had to bring my own furniture. And how difficult it was to deal with bureaucracy. Finally I got bored and I decided to resign. (Matheos V. Messakh)

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