National Mandate Party (PAN) chairman Hatta Rajasa, left, reportedly faces growing dissatisfaction within the party, especially from founder and veteran politician Amien Rais, right, ahead of the party’s national congress scheduled for Feb. 28, 2015. (Antara Photo/Reno Esnir)

Rift Deepens as National Mandate Party Prepares for Congress

JANUARY 09, 2015

Jakarta. Political observers are predicting the National Mandate Party’s congress, scheduled for Feb. 28, to be yet another heated stage for a power struggle, one which will likely decide the fate of the opposition bloc.

The party, known as the PAN, held a leadership meeting at its headquarters in South Jakarta on Wednesday to discuss preparations for next month’s congress.

The gathering resulted in the decision to nominate only two names for the post of party chairman: incumbent Hatta Rajasa and People’s Consultative Assembly speaker Zulkifli Hasan.

In his opening speech, party founder and the most influential figure in the party, Amien Rais, expressed his desire to see a  “change” within PAN, effectively throwing his support for Zulkifli.

“If Hatta doesn’t create changes, Zul can step forward and be a symbol of renewal,” Amien said.

“For me, five years [as party head] is enough. There should soon be a regeneration, but it all depends on the congress.”

A third politician, Drajad Wibowo, had communicated his interest in running for the position of PAN chairman, but with the urging of Amien renounced his bids to “focus on other party affairs.”

“Hatta and Zulkifli are the stronger candidates,” he told PAN leaders, including Hatta and Drajad.

Amien added that he wished to see “the more senior” of the two candidates, Hatta, to sit at the advisory board and “the younger [candidate] be the next chairman,” highlighting that past PAN congresses have always produced a new leader.

Both Hatta and Zulkifli declined to comment on Amien’s speech.

Dwindling support

Amien’s latest stance is a far cry from the years of support he has shown for Hatta’s five-year reign.

Amien reportedly lobbied then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009 to appoint Hatta to a key position in the cabinet, namely as coordinating minister for the economy, despite having only served as state secretary during Yudhoyono’s first term and very little credentials as an economist.

Amien also threw in his support when Hatta became the running mate for losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in last year’s election.

But Hatta has been seen distancing himself from Prabowo and his Red-White Coalition, known as the KMP, particularly on the issue of regional elections.

The Red-White Coalition, of which PAN is a member, successfully abolished regional elections last year in favor of a legislative appointment of governors, district heads and mayors.

PAN quickly switched sides, however,  after Yudhoyono issued a regulation in lieu of law, or perppu, annulling the legislation during his final days in office.

Hatta recently suggested that PAN should follow examples made by Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party by staying neutral, backing neither the Red-White Coalition or the ruling Awesome Indonesia Coalition (KIH).

The sentiment stirred resentment within PAN, said a party insider who asked not to be named. Hatta’s daughter is married to Yudhoyono’s son, and his unwavering support of the former president’s every political move is now being seen as a point of weakness.

“Enough is enough,” the source said of Hatta’s reign under conditions of anonymity. “We want a new leader. If Hatta continues to be in charge, [PAN] will forever be dictated by [Yudhoyono].”

Maneuvers

Lucius Karus, a senior researcher from the political watchdog Concerned Citizens for the Indonesian Legislature (Formappi) agreed that Amien’s support will significantly  boost Zulkifli’s chances at next month’s PAN congress.

“Amien Rais’s influence runs deep [inside the party] — all the way to cadres and officials in the provinces. This will make the Hatta-Hassan race for chairmanship a tight one,” Lucius said.

But Hatta is not giving up without a fight. With powerful connections forged during his years as economy minister, Hatta is better financed than his opponent.

“He is also an incumbent,” Lucius pointed out, a position that would grant Hatta access to various provincial leaders and swing their votes in his favor.

“This gives Hatta an advantage over Zulkifli,” he added.

Hatta has been in talks with several provincial chapter chairmen, making lucrative offers in exchange for their support, the source confirmed.

Farhad Hamid, a member of Hatta’s campaign team, claimed the incumbent has the support of at least 400 voting congress participants out of the total 536.

But his counter part at Zulkifli’s camp, Yahdil Abdil Harahap, denied the numbers, saying his candidate has the support of “nearly 80 percent” of voting congress participants.

Nico Harjanto, executive director of local think tank the Populi Center, fails to see Zulkifli offering anything new to help PAN garner more votes in the 2019 elections.

Zulkifli “does not have strong support in the provinces, he is still in Amien’s shadow and he has been summoned by the KPK,” Nico said, referring to the Corruption Eradication Commission.

The KPK has made requests to question Zulkifli, a former Forestry Minister, a number of times in relation to the illegal clearance of a forest area in Riau. The anti-graft body has so far labeled Zulkifli as “a witness,” but a number of court testimonies have pointed to the PAN politician’s alleged involvement in the bribery case.

Nico said Hatta is offering a way for PAN to come out from under the thumb of Amien and the Red-White Coalition.

“PAN must step away from the KMP’s shadow so it may independently determine its own political positions without being held hostage by the coalition,” he said, adding that the Feb. 28 congress will ultimately boil down to a power struggle between Hatta and Amien.

With both figures holding equal support within the party and both remaining headstrong about their respective agendas, PAN may suffer the same fate as the United Development Party (PPP) and Golkar by falling victim to a crippling schism.

The only way to avoid such a rift is for both sides to reach a compromise before the congress, Lucius said.

“They should reflect on what happened to Golkar. They must take steps to anticipate a split,” he added.

PAN politician Azis Subekti conceded the party has polarized into two opposing camps ahead of next month’s gathering.

“Some [politicians] want Hatta re-elected; some want a new leader. Some want to stay with the Red-White Coalition; others want to switch to the KIH,” Azis said.

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