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Gus Dur's party on the ropes after his exit

Straits Times - July 30, 2001

Devi Asmarani, Jakarta – The fate of Indonesia's Nation Awakening Party (PKB) looks increasingly uncertain as internal politicking threatens to divide it and its iconic founder Abdurrahman Wahid quits the political scene.

Analysts agree that without deposed president Mr Abdurrahman to draw in voters, the party may have little appeal left for its constituents.

Many PKB members also belong to the Nahdlatul Ulama, the 40-million strong Muslim group that Mr Abdurrahman led for 15 years.

"PKB needs a major reform as a political party. It has always relied on the figure of Gus Dur and it does not have a clear and strong political platform," said Mr Johannes Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic International Studies. PKB holds 10 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

Party executives have said that Mr Abdurrahman, who is the chairman of the PKB's advisory council, was considering resigning from the party. The deposed president says he wants to concentrate on moral and human-rights issues upon his return from a trip – ostensibly for medical treatment – to the United States.

When the PKB failed to stop the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) from removing Mr Abdurrahman during an impeachment session last week, it decided to withdraw from Parliament and the Assembly.

Even while the impeachment was in progress there were signs of disunity within the PKB. Despite the party's decision to boycott the assembly's special session, PKB chairman Matori Abdul Djalil did attend in his role as one of the MPR's deputy chairmen. As a result, he was removed from the party and later replaced by outgoing Cabinet minister Alwi Shihab.

Last Friday, the party also dismissed one of the members of the board of executives, Abdul Cholik Achmad, for his support of the result of the special session. It is also planning to question two other members for similar reasons.

A source within the PKB went so far as to say the party was being "rocked by those trying to divide us". He said members were being lured by promises of positions and wealth to stray from the party line. But the source believed the majority had not been affected by these blandishments.

Secretary General Muhaimin Iskandar said on Saturday the party would reconsider its decision to suspend PKB factions in both Parliament and the MPR during a congress to be held from August 4 to 6.

He was responding to MPR Speaker Amien Rais' calls for the party to rejoin the assembly. "We hope that our friends from PKB could support us in our efforts to amend the Constitution and redraft our country's principles," Mr Amien said at the end of Thursday's special session.

Mr Kristiadi said PKB was doing itself harm by not accepting the result of the special session and withdrawing from the Parliament. "They are just making themselves the butt of jokes because the public, the international community all have accepted the impeachment," he said.