Muslim body’s chief talks of quitting

But analysts feel Nadhlatul Ulama chairman is just testing the waters.

THE leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation has said he intends to step down next year from the 34-million strong Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) to make way for a younger person.

“I have dedicated my life in the NU executive board since 1984. It is better for me to end the leadership after a 15-year period,” said NU chairman Abdurrahman Wahid.

Speaking to reporters at an NU conference in Nusa Tenggara on Tuesday, he said that he would back members to hold the group’s leadership congress next year rather than in 1999 as scheduled.

“It will be better if I can quit next year, instead of waiting for another two years,” newspaper reports yesterday quoted him as saying.

The congress is the highest constitutional forum in NU and its purpose, among other matters, is to elect leaders of the group’s executive and law-making bodies.

He said that there were several NU members, all under 45 years of age, with the potential to replace him. The list included Mr Fajrul Falakh, Mr Arifin Junaidi and Mr Said Agil.

But analysts familiar with Mr Wahid’s strategy in Indonesian politics feel there are deeper reasons behind his decision to quit.

Mr Fachry Ali, a noted columnist of the current affairs weekly magazine Gatra, said that “it was a tactic to test the waters in NU, which was not 100 per cent behind him”.

NU’s internal politics has been marked occasionally by attempts from Mr Abu Hasan, Mr Wahid’s rival and strongest critic in the group, to unseat him, albeit unsuccessfully.

Several NU members were also reportedly upset over Mr Wahid’s recent alliance with President Suharto’s eldest daughter, Ms Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana.

He had made joint public appearances with her in Central and East Java during the election campaign earlier this year. Many NU members stayed away from the gatherings, which they said were “full of political overtones” in favour of Golkar.

Other observers believe his announcement is a subtle attack on Mr Suharto, who has yet to nominate a successor after having been in power for the last 30 years.

They said that the timing of his announcement to retire was also “very close to the presidential election” in March next year.

Noted political analyst J. Kristiadi, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said:

“He is in effect saying that a leader should not be in power for too long and should make way for new blood.”

This is the second time Mr Wahid has announced plans to retire. In 1994, he wanted to quit the chairman’s post but was forced to stay on after NU members elected him for a third five-year term.

Commenting on his latest intention to quit, he said that it would give him the chance to serve better the interests of Indonesian society.

He said: “Many have asked me to to develop the larger-scale interests of the NU, Muslims and the nation at large.

“I am a flexible man. I can become a freelance writer or be active in non-governmental organisations.”

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