PAN co-founders calling for resignation of party leader Amien Rais for ‘turning religion into a political tool’

PAN Advisory Board Chairman Amien Rais meeting with Rizieq Shihab, leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in Saudi Arabia, where Rizieq is currently a fugitive from the Indonesian police. Photo: Front Pembela Islam handout
PAN Advisory Board Chairman Amien Rais meeting with Rizieq Shihab, leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in Saudi Arabia, where Rizieq is currently a fugitive from the Indonesian police. Photo: Front Pembela Islam handout

The National Mandate Party (PAN), a major party in Indonesia’s opposition coalition, is seemingly going through an extremely turbulent time with a public denouncement of its founding father Amien Rais by the party’s most senior members.

In an open letter signed today, five of the Islam-based party’s co-founders, namely Abdillah Toha, Albert Hasibuan, Goenawan Mohamad, Toety Heraty and Zumrotin, all asked for fellow co-founder and current PAN Advisory Board Chairman Amien Rais to step down over what they perceive as transgressions he committed against party ideals.

As picked up by Detik, the five co-founders stressed in the letter that PAN is a modern and inclusive party, therefore incompatible with Amien Rais’s divisive politics and close association with hardline Islamic groups in recent years.

“[Amien Rais] has turned religion into a political tool in order to attain his goal of gaining power,” one passage in the letter read.

Amien Rais, who was formerly the head of Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s largest and most influential Islamic organizations, is respected by many for his role in helping to topple the dictator Suharto and his 32-year New Order regime during the ’98 reforms. He served as PAN’s first chairman after founding the party with several other renowned reformists.

Since the hardliner-led protest movement against former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama helped ensure the Christian politician’s loss in the 2017 gubernatorial election, many political observers have been worried about the increasing polarization of the country’s politics and the use of religion as a tool to sway voters.

Amien Rais has been one of the most influential figures in that movement — he currently sits on the board of Persaudaraan 212 (PA 212), an umbrella organization consisting of hardline Islamic groups including the highly controversial Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) led by firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab. PA 212 has been closely associated with the coalition of opposition parties led by Gerindra chairman and 2019 presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

In recent years, Amien Rais has been no stranger to making highly divisive statements, such as saying earlier this year that parties that don’t make up the opposition were “the forces of Satan”.

The turbulence within PAN could possibly spell disaster for Prabowo’s candidacy as he trails incumbent President Joko Widodo by double-digits in most polls ahead of April’s election. In addition to the open letter, several senior PAN members have in recent weeks gone against the party’s instructions by openly declaring their support for President Jokowi in the election.

Amien Rais has not publicly responded to the open letter, but Tjatur Sapto Edy, another PAN co-founder, has denied rumors of a rift within the party and is urging Amien Rais to remain as its leader.

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