Nusa Dua, Bali/Jakarta. Zulkifli Hasan, the newly elected chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN), asserted on Monday that his party would stay in the opposition, dismissing speculation that it considered crossing over to the pro-government side.
Zulkifli, who won the leadership race against incumbent Hatta Rajasa in Bali on Sunday, said both he and the former chief economic minister had close ties with the opposition Red-White Coalition (KMP).
“Hatta and I are equally close to the KMP. So there will be no changes [in our relations] with the KMP,” Zulkifli said on the sidelines of PAN’s national congress in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Monday.
“Hatta is close to Prabowo, and so am I. [I’m close] to Ical, too; we even came from the same hometown,” he added, referring to Prabowo Subianto, chairman of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and Aburizal “Ical” Bakrie, chairman of Golkar Party.
Gerindra and Golkar are also members of the opposition bloc, which consists of five political parties.
Zulkifli added that he was also close to Djan Faridz, leader of the pro-KMP faction in the United Development Party (PPP).
The PPP — a former KMP member — supported Prabowo’s candidacy during last year’s presidential election, which was won by Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Following a disagreement with the rest of the KMP during the election for speakers of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) in October, the PPP jumped ship to the pro-government Awesome Indonesia Coalition (KIH), led by the PDI-P.
Zulkifli was elected as MPR speaker that month. The PPP, meanwhile, has since then split into two factions, although it is now formally a member of the KIH. When asked what he would do if PAN was asked to join President Joko Widodo’s administration, Zulkifli said, “[remaining] outside government is more respectable.”
He added, though, that this did not mean that PAN would become hostile toward the government, as was the impression after the KMP’s aggressive maneuvers in the national legislature following their bitter defeat in the presidential election.
“If the government is pro-people, we must support them; in order to improve the people’s welfare. If they are against the people, though, surely PAN will criticize the government,” the new chairman said.
Zulkifli won the party leadership by a narrow margin. He collected 292 votes over Hatta’s 286, with six votes declared invalid. His win has been attributed to PAN founder and chief patron Amien Rais’s support for him.
Although throwing his support behind Hatta during last year’s presidential race as Prabowo’s running mate, Amien has since been distancing himself from Hatta.
“If Hatta doesn’t create change, Zul can step forward and be a symbol of renewal,” Amien was quoted as saying in January. “For me, five years [of Hatta as party leader] is enough. There should be regeneration soon, but it all depends on the congress.”
Hatta served as the PAN chairman from 2009 to 2014, during which he also served as the coordinating minister for the economy under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Speculation has it that Hatta had grown too close to Yudhoyono, the chairman of the Democratic Party, and that Amien worried Yudhoyono was using Hatta to steer PAN in a direction he desires.
The Democratic Party and Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) are both other members of the KMP.
Firdaus Syam, a political observer of the National University (UNAS), said Monday that Zulkifli’s win, along with his close relationship with Amien, had put an end to the possibility that PAN would ever jump ship to the government.
Amien, along with Prabowo and veteran Golkar politicians such as Akbar Tandjung, are seen as chaperons of the KMP.
The KMP issue aside, Firdaus praised PAN’s election of a new chairman, calling it a democratic process with minor conflicts and a good example for a modern political party.
Hatta has called on his supporters in PAN to accept his defeat and to maintain their loyalty to the party.
“We respect [the election result]. We’ll give our support [to the winner]. Let’s stick together. If we don’t, our party will fall apart,” he told congress participants on Monday.
Firdaus contrasted PAN’s peaceful and orderly election with the highly divisive leadership struggles in the PPP and Golkar last year, which resulted in major internal rifts afflicting Indonesia’s two oldest parties. He also compared PAN’s internal process with that of the PDI-P and the Democratic Party, which he has described as examples of regeneration failures.
The PDI-P and Democratic Party both look set to let their founders and current chairpersons take the reins for another five-year period.
Both parties are slated to hold national congresses this year.
“The PDI-P and the Democrats should follow the example of PAN’s congress. The chairperson doesn’t have to be the founder or the party’s central figure,” Firdaus said.