Will Muchdi’s Move to PPP Spell an End to Government Coalition?

This is an unedited version of this article which appears in the Jakarta Globe on April 23, 2011. My original story was more than 1000 words and the edited version came out less than 600.

When Muchdi Purwoprandjono announced he was leaving the Great Indonesia Movement, a nationalist-based political party he helped create and decided to move to the Islam-based United Development Party in February many were left baffled in disbelief.

Muchdi have survived countless allegations namely being dubbed responsible for the widespread riots that followed the fall of former president Suharto in 1998 during his time as an Army commander to masterminding the murder of prominent human rights advocate Munir Said Thalib in 2004.

With so much controversy surrounding the retired two-star general, it became natural that a lot of people inside the Islam party, also known as the PPP began questioning his true motive to switch side.

Among the rumors circulating inside the PPP is that he wants to chair the PPP in a bid to get the party out of the coalition with the ruling Democratic Party and form an alliance with his old party known as Gerindra. When confronted by the Jakarta Globe with the allegations, Muchdi’s tone changed from soft and polite to loud and enraged.

“What?” the retired general said in an earsplitting voice. “That’s not true. None of it is true.”

Muchdi explained that his departure from Gerindra is fueled by an internal conflict, particularly when the party was approached by the Democratic Party as rumors of a reshuffle inside President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet circulated shortly before Muchdi’s move to PPP.

Early this year, Gerindra’s founder (ret) Let Gen Prabowo Subianto signaled that he was approached by the Democratic Party and its coalition partners and offered the position as minister, which would mean an end to Gerindra’s stance as an opposition to the government.

“When we first established Gerindra, we agreed that we must counter attacks from the Neo-Liberals and their agents. After the 2009 elections, me and Prabowo agreed that we should stay out of the coalition and dedicate ourselves to criticize the government and correct their policies,” Muchdi said.

“But then the commitment changed. There is a political maneuver and compromise. At the same time, certain elements within the PPP asked me to join. Being a long-time Muslim activist myself, I was attracted to develop the last remaining pure Islamic party.”

But Muchdi’s decision to join the PPP, another coalition member of the government seems contradictory to his argument on why he left his old party, especially now that Gerindra had blatantly refused to side with Yudhoyono’s administration.

There has been a growing speculation that Prabowo was planning to put Muchdi as his agent inside the PPP to mobilize support for Gerindra during the 2014 presidential election. Gerindra has already gained the support of the Star Reform Party (PBR), another Islam-based political party which failed to gather any parliamentary seat in the 2009 election.

Last year, Muchdi was also eyeing for chairmanship of Muhammadiyah, the nation’s second largest Muslim organization.

In public, leaders of the PPP had welcomed Muchdi’s move but beneath the surface, particularly those close to current chair Suryadharma Ali was cautious about his possible ambition to lead the party.

“Muchdi is more fitting to handle the defense and security affairs of the party,” PPP secretary general Irgan Chairul Mahfidz said in February adding that given his military background, Muchdi would better suit the position than chairman post.

“His background is different. He is a soldier and from a nationalist party. When he enters an Islam-based party, of course there would be a clash of ideologies.”

Muchdi however refused to say that he is a newcomer to Islam-based politics. “My mother comes from an NU (Nahdlatul Ulama) family and my father was a Masyumi (one of the earliest Muslim party),” he said.

“My family has Islamic schools throughout Yogyakarta, I was a member of an Islamic Student Association (PII) so I have always consider myself to be a Muslim activist. I would like to dedicate the remainder of my life to the only pure Islamic party.”

Despite his close ties with Muslim organization, Muchdi is a newcomer inside the PPP and garnering support in time for the upcoming internal election seems like a daunting task.

But, according to several sources inside the party Muchdi would benefit from an internal rift inside the party particularly those displeased by Suryadharma’s leadership.

“Muchdi garnered a lot of support from the youth wing factions of the party, especially given the fact that there have been very few young people in the PPP’s current executive board,” the source said.

There is also a mounting discontent inside the PPP’s senior members, which Muchdi could capitalize. Some senior party officials had been criticizing Suryadharma’s decision to back the government opposition to the House of Representatives inquiries into the Bank Century scandal and tax mafia cases.

This month, Suryadharma pledged to support President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono until 2014 despite mounting calls for the party to leave the government coalition.

“We are the front guard of the government — PPP cadres will remain in the cabinet,” Suryadharma said during a national party meeting at the Hotel Borobudur Jakarta.

He asked PPP members to understand that being in the cabinet would give the party more opportunity to warn the government of bad policies. The pledge could widen the gaps inside the party.

Aside from addressing the party’s position inside the coalition, the party’s national coordination meeting also discussed rules pertaining to the election of the next general chairman, scheduled to be held on June 11.

Ahmad Muqowam, a senior PPP lawmaker was the first to publicly announce his readiness to run as candidate to become the next top leader of the party.

“There are many requests from local PPP members for me to run as the next general chairman. Now I am ready to bring substantial reform to this party,” he said.

Suryadharma is also expected to run for reelection but said that he would announce his formal decision soon.

Although he has not formally announced his bid for PPP chairmanship, Muchdi said that he aims to make some changes inside the party. “This party lacks leadership. That is why there is little support and confidence towards the party in the last election,” he said.

As far as PPP’s commitment to stay on the coalition if he were to be elected as party chair, Muchdi said that it is “too early to discuss.”

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