Presidential hopes glow for Amien …

IN WAKE OF MEGA-HAMZAH RIFT

The national assembly chairman is wooing Islamic groups as he moves in to fill a leadership vacuum.

Spurred on by recent problems between President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her deputy, national assembly chairman Amien Rais is fast moving in to consolidate his links with moderate Muslim groups to strengthen his position with an eye on the 2004 polls.

Bereft of strong military support, Dr Amien, who is also leader of the National Mandate Party (PAN), has been making overtures in recent weeks to several Muslim parties and groups across the ideological spectrum to build a coalition to support his presidential ambitions.

That speculation grew on Thursday night when he held a meeting in his house to discuss amendments to the Indonesian Constitution.

At the discussion table were the country’s top Muslim leaders from a wide range of groups that included the Muhammadiyah, Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and the Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI).

Political parties were also represented with the likes of PAN, the United Development Party, the Justice Party, the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), and the Crescent Star Party (PBB).

Observers said that while the meeting focused on constitutional reform, it was symbolically significant for the 58-year-old leader given the audience he had from these groups.

A senior PBB official who was present for the Thursday meeting told The Straits Times: ‘This is a tactical move by a very consummate politician reading the ground well.’

Dr Amien had long seen the value of cultivating the Muslim ground especially after his party’s disastrous performance in the 1999 election.

PAN ended up a distant fifth.

He subsequently turned PAN into a Muslim-oriented party to go beyond wooing Indonesia’s middle-class voters to win the Muslim vote.

Analysts believe that there was even greater urgency now for him to work the ground as the political fallout between Ms Megawati and her Vice-President Hamzah Haz has presented a leadership vacuum for him to move in.

The President, with her secular-nationalist credentials, would find it hard to woo the Islamic camp.

Mr Hamzah, despite his grassroots links, was staring at a party that was divided.

While he is linking up with several Muslim groups, his main targets appear to be the Muhammadiyah – where he was formerly its chairman – the Nadhlatul Ulama and ICMI.

The Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah provide a strong mass base given that they are the largest Muslim organisations in Indonesia.

ICMI is significant because of its links to the urban centres and the middle class.

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