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Eight NU groups endorse general election boycott

Jakarta Post - 26 April, 1997

Jakarta - Eight groups within Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Moslem organization, yesterday endorsed boycotting the election as a form of political participation.

Almost immediately afterward NU chairman Abdurrahman Wahid lashed out at the groups, saying they had overstepped their boundary and used the organization's name arbitrarily.

"This is impudent of them. They are overstepping the boundary. The executive board of NU knew nothing of their message," said Abdurrahman, who is better known as Gus Dur. "Besides, the board will never issue any 'moral message' about the general election," he told reporters.

Abdurrahman spoke to the press at his office on the first floor of the NU building, only minutes after a group of NU activists claiming to represent the eight wings of NU issued their statement about the general election on the second floor.

The groups including the youth and women wings of the organization, said in their statement that voting is a right, not an obligation, for all citizens. "Therefore, any citizen has the freedom to exercise or not to use the right," the statement said. "We're not turning a blind eye to the fact that for one reason or another there are members of the community who feel they don't need to use the right."

"There's a growing discontent...over the current system, while improvements are not guaranteed by the general election," it said. "There's a feeling the election has become a 'tool' to maintain the existing power status quo rather than guarantee an open rotation of power. "

The groups also said they detected a growing feeling among members of society that the election was merely a trick to tell the community "that the current power is legitimate".

"There's a feeling that the dominant political group is wishing to win at all costs even by neglecting manners and political norms," it said. "There's a feeling that the right to supervise the election is the monopoly of certain institutions, so that the public's independent control over it is blocked. "There's a feeling that certain political parties are being 'crippled' so that their constituents lose their shelter and became desolate," he said.

The statement said if people choose to abstain from voting the group can "understand their feelings and stance and consider (abstaining) as a legitimate form of political participation". The statement was signed by among others, NU youth intellectual Ulil Abshar Abdalla. Ulil said the statement was the result of a deliberation of the organization's mission known as the Khittah 1926 which says that NU is a religious and educational organization. It is usually also seen as a declaration of the organization's stance on non-political involvement.

Ulil said the groups had consulted some NU leaders prior to drawing up the statement.