Hartono joins Islamic group ‘to learn more about Islam’

But speculation rife he will use it as platform for political ambitions

INDONESIA’S Information Minister, Mr Raden Hartono, has denied any political motives in joining the influential Islamic group, the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), amid speculation that he will use it as a platform for his political ambitions.

Stressing that he had joined the ICMI for personal reasons, he said there was a lot he could learn from the association’s experts.

His decision to become a member also stemmed from his empathy towards the ICMI’s aims and activities.

“Over time, ICMI has developed into a great organisation with activities that have benefited the nation,” news reports yesterday quoted him as saying.

“I want to broaden my knowledge of Islam. I believe it will be useful for me to join ICMI. In due time, we will see how beneficial it is.”

The former army chief, with strong links in the Muslim communities of Central and East Java, disclosed his intention to join the group last week.

He said it was easier for him to be an ICMI member now, after retiring from active military service. Military officers are not allowed to join political parties or other groupings.

Mr Hartono was given the green light after ICMI chairman B.J. Habibie met President Suharto on Tuesday.

Said Mr Habibie, who is also the Minister for Research and Technology: “The President said there is no problem with Hartono joining ICMI.”

He added that the ICMI, which has more than 42,000 members, welcomed Mr Hartono’s entry.

The membership is a mixed group which includes non-governmental Muslim leaders as well as long-serving Cabinet ministers.

The ministers include Vice-President Tri Sutrisno and State Minister for Development Planning Ginanjar Kartasasmita.

Political observers here told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Hartono’s membership was a logical outcome of his longstanding backing of the ICMI.

Sources said he was one of the few senior military officers who backed its establishment in late 1990 despite opposition from many others.

He was also the military commander of East Java when a meeting was held there to form the association.

Noted Mr Umar Juoro of the ICMI-linked think-tank Centre for Development and Information Studies: “He has a right to be part of the organisation because of his constant support for it even when the chips were down.”

Despite Mr Hartono’s denial, some analysts believe his decision to be a member was guided purely by political imperatives.

Said an analyst: “There is no question of him using it as a political base because he needs the support of the Islamic constituency if he has plans to become vice-president next year.”

Observers also believe that Mr Hartono could take over as ICMI leader from Mr Habibie, who has been the association’s chairman since its founding.

Linked to this is speculation of potential rivalry between Mr Hartono and Mr Habibie for the vice-president’s post next year.

But ICMI secretary-general Adi Sasono brushed aside such suggestions.

He was also quick to dismiss the view that Mr Hartono’s entry would boost the association’s political standing and leverage.

The ICMI was not a political organisation, he said.

It was set up as a sounding board for Muslim input to public policy, rather than as a mass- based political vehicle.

The association aims to unify Indonesia’s Muslims and improve their economic well-being, as well as to ensure that Islamic values are reflected in government policy.

Posted in Indonesia