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Bad apples see Islamic PKS veer off course

Jakarta Post - March 28, 2011

This is the first report on the deplorable internal rift besetting the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). As more senior PKS members speak out about long kept skeletons in the closet of the party's leaders, it may demonstrate that at some point, like all other parties, the PKS is no different when it comes to the euphoria money can create. The Jakarta Post explores the issue.

Around 13 years ago, Islamic activist-cum-preacher Anis Matta and Fahri Hamzah could only afford to sleep in mosques whenever they traveled. Both men also had no other option than to travel on public transportation.

A sermon by one of their senior clerics on the importance of living a humble life and limiting worldly pleasures had become deeply ingrained in their minds and influenced their daily deeds.

But since taking a top job in the Justice Party (PK), the former name of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and occupying a seat at the House of Representatives since 2004 with all the VIP facilities, Anis and Fahri seemed to have abandoned their modest lifestyles.

Now, as deputy House speaker and PKS secretary-general, Anis enjoys the comfort of a Toyota Crown Royal Saloon as provided by the state to high-ranking officials. Anis also has at least one Toyota Harrier worth around Rp 600 million in his private garage. And a new second wife of Uzbekistan national Szilvia Fabula.

His junior, Fahri, who serves as PKS deputy secretary-general, also enjoys the comfort of a Toyota Alphard and regularly stays in first class accommodations.

A lavish lifestyle as displayed by most PKS leaders coupled with a string of graft allegations recently made by several senior PKS members have posed a serious challenge to the party's image as a clean and constituent-caring party, as well as a role model for modest Islamic living.

But these problems have been long kept under the carpet within the PKS internal circle until recently when several of the party's founders decided to sweep out the dirt.

It was cleric Yusuf Supendi that initiated the campaign for the ousting of the bad apples in PKS by reporting the party's top officials to the House of Representatives' ethics council on March 17 and to the Corruption Eradication Commission on March 21 for alleged corruption.

Yusuf accused PKS chairman Luthfi Hasan Ishaq of misusing donations from the Middle East for personal use when serving as the party's treasurer. The money was donated in 1999 for the party's election campaign.

Yusuf also lashed out at PKS secretary-general Anis Matta for allegedly embezzling Rp 10 billion (US$1.26 million) from the Rp 40 billion campaign fund donated by Adang Daradjatun to PKS during the Jakarta governorship race in 2006. Anis and Luthfi were Yusuf's students in the 1980s.

Hilmi Aminuddin, who is chairman of the PKS Religious Assembly, or Majelis Syuro, was also mentioned by Yusuf as the "godfather" providing backup for crooked PKS officials. The Majelis Syuro is the highest institution in the party with the greatest authority.

"When it comes to praying, PKS leaders are undoubtedly the best. But they are also among the very best when it comes to pooling (illegally amassed) money and seducing girls," said Yusuf.

"I am also amazed at how Hilmi accumulated his wealth in a very short time. Just look at his luxurious villa in Bandung, West Java, and his collection of luxury cars."

Yusuf, former PKS legislator between 2004 and 2009, has underscored three problems plaguing the party's leaders: corruption, unauthorized polygamy as based on Islamic teachings, and the role of Hilmi as PKS' authoritarian and absolute leader.

Yusuf's allegation cannot be overlooked as he once held several strategic posts in the party, including a member of the Majelis Syuro.

He is also former deputy chairman of the party's sharia council, which functions as supervisor to ensure the attitudes of the party's officials and members comply with Islamic teachings.

Yusuf is also former chairman of the party's sharia tribunal, which handed out sanctions to members for violating Islamic regulations. While Yusuf does not execute his right to polygamy, he was once involved in the party's committee to grant members permission to have more than one wife.

Yusuf's decision to go public with the alleged violations committed by the PKS leaders have received support from the party's other founders, including Syamsul Balda (former PKS deputy chairman who left the party in 2003), Abu Ridha (senior PKS politician) and Tizar Zein (senior PKS politician who left the party in 2008).

Syamsul said the internal rift occurred because the party was becoming more pragmatic in complying with the need for huge amounts of funds to fuel the party's activities.

Pragmatism within the party, he said, had already started when the party assigned its first president, Nur Mahmudi Ismail, as forestry minister during the Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid administration between 1999 and 2001.

Nur Mahmudi, who was supposed to lead the fight against illegal logging, turned out to have misused his authority by issuing more licenses for forest concessions to businessmen, Syamsul said.

The minister's favorable treatment of the businessmen eventually provided the party with more financial resources to expand, and this was supported by some members of the Majelis Syuro. Gur Dur fired Nur Mahmudi in March 2001 because of vested interests.

"The party then seemed to enjoy the benefit of its members being appointed public officials," said Syamsul. "And they seemed to become addicted to it."

Complaints by several idealistic members who were aware the practices were against Islamic teachings were never taken seriously by the Majelis Syuro. "Hilmi even supported Nur Mahmudi's pragmatic approach," said Syamsul.

Nur Mahmudi denied the accusation that he was using PKS pragmatism to satisfy the need for financial resources. "Just check on the treasurer at the time; where exactly was the party's money coming from?" he said on Friday.

Disillusioned with the party's course, several PKS idealists decided to leave the party in 2003. Those who remained were eventually ousted during Hilmi's term as chairman of the party's Majelis Syuro in 2004. Among those fired included Yusuf Supendi after being accused of having an affair with another woman an allegation he strongly denied.

Due to the widening internal rift, the PKS lost its largest base in Depok, West Java, during the 2009 election as more of its idealistic constituents were aware that the party was heading off its original course.

In response to the allegations, PKS president Luthfi said Yusuf's outrageous attacks were prompted by his disappointment of being fired by the party in 2008 for bad behavior.

Luthfi said the PKS for now allowed Yusuf to lash out in anger at party officials until he ran out of ammunition and fell from extreme exhaustion.

"I can understand that he could not take the dismissal. It has been proven that Yusuf committed a grave violation of not only the party's regulations but also of Islamic teachings," he said. "We have sent several psychiatrists to check on his mental stability."

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