Pluralist icon turned into political gimmick
Nurfika Osman and Hasyim Widhiarto
The Jakarta Post
The surprise move by businessman Rusdi Kirana to join the National Awakening Party (PKB) has fueled an already heated political debate over which party has the right to display the image of former president Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid to attract the supporters of the iconic Muslim cleric and pluralist.
Gus Dur's family has criticized Rusdi, president director of the Lion Air Group, for claiming that he had joined the PKB because he admired the former leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is believed to have 40 million members.
The family had severed ties with the PKB under the leadership of Muhaimin Iskandar, whom they believed had betrayed Gus Dur, his own uncle.
Inayah Wahid, one of Gus Dur's daughters, said the PKB could not use any pictures of her father in its campaigns. 'That is in line with his personal request. He said every party could use his picture except the PKB under Muhaimin.'
Gus Dur's widow, Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, said the family now supported the United Development Party (PPP), which held a ceremony on Tuesday commemorating the fourth anniversary since Gus Dur's death in 2009. 'The PPP can display Gus Dur's picture wherever they want and I hope this party will become the pioneer of democracy, pluralism, humanism and human rights.'
The PPP's move to embrace Gus Dur, known for his staunch opposition to religious intolerance, is widely viewed as nothing but a political gimmick by the party's chairman, Suryadharma Ali. As religious affairs minister, Suryadharma is largely blamed for rising intolerance in the country in the past few years.
The PKB insists that the party promotes the ideals championed by Gus Dur and that is why Rusdi joined the party. 'I asked Pak Rusdi several times why he chose to join the PKB. He said he wanted to serve the party and continue Gus Dur's efforts [to promote pluralism],' Muhaimin said in a press conference.
PKB secretary-general Imam Nahrawi said Rusdi's encounter with Gus Dur dated back to late 2004, not long after party lawmaker and NU cleric Yusuf Muhammad died in a Lion Air plane crash at Adi Sumarmo International Airport in Surakarta, Central Java 'He felt he owed the party, so he joined it.'
When asked about Gus Dur's family's request to the PKB, Imam said: 'Gus Dur did not teach discrimination. But, we have instructed our members not to use banners emblazoned with his picture.'
Political analyst with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Syamsuddin Haris, said the number of NU members that supported Gus Dur's ideals was great enough for parties to compete for their support.
'These parties need the masses to survive the election, and since Gus Dur is a magnetic icon in the country and he still has a lot of followers today, using his name will attract these people to support the parties.'
Between the two parties, the PPP stood a better chance of attracting the NU followers because Gus Dur's family was supporting the party.
Political researcher Firman Noor said the PKB needed to accommodate the political aspirations of Gus Dur followers to boost its chances in the election.
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