PPP cuts Golkar apron strings

The Muslim-based PPP, long endorsed by the ruling Golkar as an ‘approved’ party, takes tentative steps to cast itself as an independent force

THE Muslim-oriented United Development Party (PPP) yesterday sought to join the ranks of the country’s leading election contenders by suggesting that it could secure at least 20 per cent of the votes nationwide.

The party also brushed aside suggestions that it would join forces with the ruling Golkar, maintaining that “its links with the past are over”.

Addressing two rallies here attended by some 2,000 people, PPP chairman Hamzah Haz said his party – once used by former President Suharto’s New Order government as a channel for Islamic aspirations – wanted to reassert itself in the political arena “after years of being controlled by Golkar”.

“We are certain of getting more than 20 per cent of the votes,” he told supporters in a rally in South Jakarta, in response to reports that the party stood little chance of being a front-runner like Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party-Perjuangan (PDI-Struggle) and the National Mandate Party (PAN).

He said the PPP would also be the “No 1 party” in the capital with at least 40 per cent of the votes.

Analysts say the PPP has moved aggressively to leave its imprint on public policies, particularly after Mr Suharto’s fall last year.

In last November’s meeting of the People’s Consultative Assembly, for example, it tried unsuccessfully to block the allotment of parliamentary seats to the military.

It has also adopted a stronger Islamic image, doing away with the Pancasila ideology and restoring to its party emblem the image of the Kaabah in Mecca, which Muslims face when praying.

But it has not managed to unshackle its links to Golkar, as many Indonesians continue to brand it as a New-Order relic for its having consistently supported Mr Suharto’s nomination as president in the past.

Mr Hamzah appeared to reinforce this when he said last week that the PPP would back President B.J. Habibie as its presidential contender.

Lending credence to such views are comments from several Golkar leaders, including chairman Akbar Tandjung, who told The Straits Times that it was “confident” PPP would join its coalition after the election.

Respected Islamic scholar Abdurrahman Wahid added fuel to the controversy when he said last week that the PPP was being funded “mysteriously” in its election campaign.

He did not reveal who was financing the party but observers suggested that he was alluding to elements in Golkar that were close to Dr Habibie.

Mr Abdurrahman’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from Mr Hamzah, who publicly disavowed supporting the incumbent and Golkar. He has instead formed a “tactical alliance” with Dr Amien Rais’ PAN and the Islamic-oriented Justice Party.

Mr Hamzah used the opportunity yesterday to try to once again lay the ghost of its association with Golkar to rest. He told supporters that the PPP would only nominate its own members for president and vice-president. It would also not support another party’s candidate, including Golkar’s.

The PPP, he maintained, had for far too long been “victimised” by the ruling party.

“In the past, our obstacle was Golkar – Golkar which has always manipulated our voting results,” he said, to cheers from his supporters.

Outside the PPP rallies yesterday, up to 5,000 party supporters in their trademark green rode on motorcycles and buses around the city waving party flags and banners.

Although the campaigns themselves were peaceful, police had earlier fired warning shots into the air in West Jakarta’s Tanah Tinggi district as PPP supporters travelling to the gathering were attacked.

About 100 soldiers were deployed to the scene to break up a fight between what was said to be two rival gangs armed with knives and bamboo poles.

According to reports here, some PPP supporters were members of a local gang, who were attacked by members of a rival gang.

Several people were reportedly injured during the hour-long incident.

There have been no serious clashes reported, but on Monday, stones were thrown at supporters of Golkar. No casualties were reported.

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