The Jakarta Post
National Mandate Party (PAN) cofounder and senior politician Amien Rais has illustrated his strong grip on the party, with a successful attempt to sway support for his in-law, Zulkifli Hasan, ensuring the latter is the new chairman of the party.
Zulkifli, the current People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) speaker and former forestry minister, beat incumbent Hatta Rajasa in a close race by securing 292 votes, six votes ahead of Hatta, in a national congress on Monday night.
By sealing Monday's win, Zulkifli, whose daughter Futri Zulya Safitri married Amien's son Ahmad Mumtaz Rais, has matched Amien, who led the party and served as MPR speaker from 1999 to 2004.
Once a progressive icon of change from Muhammadiyah, Amien founded the party in 1998 in an effort to reform former president Soeharto's New Order regime.
The victory also confirms the party's stance, with it likely remaining in the opposition Red and White Coalition, which Amien helped build during the presidential election last year.
'[Thank God]. This is not my victory, but the party's victory,' said Zulkifli after the vote.
Although the congress was marred by an earlier incident, due to the elimination of eight of the party's local executives for having breached the registration process, the voting went smoothly.
In addition, Amien had earlier attacked Hatta by calling him 'a liar' as the former coordinating economic minister once said to a party forum that he would attend a meeting with the Red and White Coalition, while in fact he met with President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo.
When Zulkifli's lead became apparent, Hatta shook Zulkifli's hand and embraced him minutes before the final count was called. However, Hatta did not greet Amien before he left the congress room.
'The party is obviously divided. Everything is divided into two and the two competing groups, which is a lot like the [ruling] Great Indonesia Coalition and the [opposition] Red-and-White Coalition, may have clashed again had we not made a decision quickly,' said Tjatur Sapto Edy, deputy chairman of the congress' steering committee.
As the in-law of Democratic Party chief Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Hatta had indicated he would follow the lead of the country's former president in taking 'a neutral stance' on the national political scene, which meant that PAN would have preferred a loose relationship with the opposition coalition and may have supported government allies in the Great Indonesia Coalition.
Tjatur added that the committee, with consent from both Hatta and Zulkifli, had decided to skip some procedures to speed up the voting session, over fears of further conflict after the morning incident.
The committee later exempted Hatta from elaborating on his achievements when leading the party from 2010-2015 before all leaders of the party's branches throughout the country, and instead required that he submit a written report.
PAN is expected to conclude the three day congress with a ceremony on the party's five-year course of action on Monday.