Political interests were palpable at this year’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) national conference, prompting observers to question the legitimacy of the organization’s vow to keep away from politics.
Rumors of vote buying and black campaigns were rife during the five-day conference of the nation’s biggest Muslim organization, in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The vote-buying allegations intensified on the sidelines of the election sessions.
Sahal Mahfudz, who was re-elected as the chief of NU’s syuriah (lawmaking) body during the same conference, said Sunday that political influence in this year’s congress had been at an “all-time high”.
Vote buying was also at its worst this year, he told The Jakarta Post.
“In Surakarta [Central Java], the NU congress was calm. In Surabaya [East Java] too. But here in Makassar, the rumors [about vote-buying] were intense. Everyone was talking about it. “I regret this very much. It’s not only the givers, but also the takers,” Sahal said.
Political analyst Kacung Maridjan, also at the congress, echoed Sahal’s remarks.
“The political infiltration by certain parties was clear. They came to the congress to build up their influence there,” Kacung told the Post on Sunday.
Said Agil Siradj, a prominent cleric who is well connected to the government and military, won the election and became the new NU executive chairman to replace Hasyim Muzadi — defeating veteran Golkar Party politician Slamet Effendi Yusuf.
“The high number of votes garnered by Slamet were evidence of Golkar’s influence in the NU election,” Kacung said. Other political groups including the Democratic Party, the United Development Party (PPP), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) had similarly presented “representatives” at the conference, he said.
Senior politicians from those parties were seen roaming large at the conference venue, particularly in the hours prior to the NU vote sessions.
Ray Rangkuti, a parliamentary observer who also attended the congress, said external political interests were infiltrating NU because of a lack of internal controls within the organization
Speaking to the press shortly after the NU chairmanship election on Saturday night, Slamet denied any accusations that he was financially and institutionally backed by the Golkar Party.
“That’s not true,” he said.
Both Said and Slamet also denied that they had bought votes.
Shortly after winning the vote, Said pledged to keep NU away from politics, a statement questioned by observers.
Noted Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra said there were undeniable facts that Said was not indifferent in politics, citing his association with the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
“Said was among those who declared the establishment of the PKB,” Azyumardi said Sunday.
“And when he became distanced from the PKB because of certain issues, he approached the PDI-P
and joined the Islamic wing of the party, Baitul Muslimin Indonesia,” he said.
Indobarometer political analyst Mohammad Qodari shared similar doubts about Said’s statements.
Several meetings in Cikeas, for which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had summoned Said and another candidate, Salahuddin Wahid, to his home before the conference, could not have been driven by non-political motives, he said.
“We don’t know what will happen in the future, but there will certainly be temptations to get involved in politics,” Qodari said.