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Deciphering the influence of PKS puppet-master Hilmi

Jakarta Post - March 29, 2011

This is the second of two reports about internal rifts besetting the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). With many idealists leaving, the party is left in the hands of leaders who are allegedly swinging the party toward pragmatism. The Jakarta Post's Hasyim Widhiarto and Rendi Akhmad Witular explore the issue.

A luxurious, two-story villa is tucked in a hilly village of Pagerwangi, Lembang, located around 15 kilometers north of West Java's capital of Bandung.

The villa is hidden inside a 1.3-hectare country-style compound called Padepokan Madani, where visitors must undergo firm security checks and submit their ID cards before entering.

A glimpse into the villa reveals six sport utility vehicles lined up in the garage and yard, including a Mitsubishi Pajero and Nissan Terrano. The garage alone can accommodate six vehicles. A PKS source familiar with the villa said there was a 2-meter safe-deposit box consisting of cash in US dollars for party financial needs.

The villa is owned by none other than PKS chief patron Hilmi Aminuddin, 64, nicknamed Ustadz Hilmi.

Although Hilmi was out of town when the Post visited the villa on Thursday, guest manager Reza Mahdi allowed a tour into the compound that features 43 rooms all made from hardwood a camping ground, a posh dining room and eight meeting rooms for accommodating up to 200 guests.

While Reza confirmed that the facility was regularly used as a command center for PKS elites, he denied it was entirely owned by Hilmi.

"The compound is operated by the Madani Foundation, which also runs the nearby Nurul Fikri Islamic boarding school," he said, adding that the facility was also open to the public as long as they complied with Islamic values, refraining from smoking and consuming alcoholic drinks and requiring women to wear head scarves during their stay.

According to the Nurul Fikri boarding school's website, Hilmi is registered as the head of the school's steering committee, while his eldest son Wildan Hakim is the director. Village head Ruspandi said Hilmi moved into the village in 2007.

"Soon after Pak Hilmi moved here, he built several mosques and helped us finance the construction of a 1.5-kilometer asphalt road." After the road was fixed, Ruspandi said area property values soared to Rp 200,000 (US$23) per square meter from Rp 30,000.

Local residents said they often saw legislators, ministers and high-ranking government officials visiting the place, which they also called the "PKS base camp". "Some of the visitors even came with police escorts," said 39-year-old Wawan, a local farmer.

From his tranquil villa, Hilmi is steering the course of the country's largest Islamic party, and probably the world's largest when it comes to the size of its supporters.

As PKS chairman of the Religious Council, or Majelis Syuro, Hilmi is the most powerful official with the highest authority at the party, which is widely known for its clean, caring and modest image.

Hilmi has played a vital role in designing the PKS' political course, including selecting candidates for legislators, councillors, local administration leaders and even gaining support for the president.

According to Syamsul Balda, a PKS founder and former deputy president, while the party's pragmatism was already cemented in 1999 by former PKS first president Nur Mahmudi Ismail, such an approach intensified after Hilmi officially led the Majelis Syuro in 2005.

To maintain such pragmatism, according to PKS' other founder, Yusuf Supendi, Hilmi applied two strategies: establishing a one-door policy for the party's financial affairs and assigning critical and idealistic members to petty jobs. "Hilmi is actually acting as the real treasurer for the party."

Even some party icons, including Syamsul, Yusuf, Hidayat Nur Wahid (former speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly), Didien Hafidhudin (former PKS presidential candidate) and Abu Ridha (now Banten Legislative Council member), have been sidelined to petty jobs within the party. Tizar Zein, Mashadi and Ihsan Tandjung chose to resign from the PKS rather than accept a demotion.

In their less-influential positions, they cannot be expected to pressure the current leaders to change, according to Syamsul and Yusuf.

Hilmi instead nurtured his own boys to help maintain the pragmatic approach. They include PKS president Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, secretary-general Anis Matta, deputy secretary-general Fahri Hamzah and legislators Achmad Rilyadi and Aboe Bakar Al-Habsyi. These officials operate the PKS machine with Hilmi as their driver.

In a recent telephone interview, Hilmi denied these allegations, saying former PKS members now lashing out at party officials were motivated by disappointment after being dismissed for bad behavior.

"All allegations against me are unfounded. This is just an attempt to destroy the PKS over fears of an Islamic rise," said Hilmi.

"About allegations of my lavish lifestyle, I can only say that it all depends on how people see it. They can say whatever they will." Hilmi refused to elaborate further, and said to seek clarification from party officials.

Fahri Hamzah, a trusted lieutenant of Hilmi's, said the deplorable attacks on the PKS might have been engineered by certain interests whose aim was none other than to keep the party from criticizing the government.

"This is blatant and elaborate engineering to diminish the party ahead of the upcoming [2014] election. We are not buying into that, and our members are not backing down in their support."

Hilmi and his mysterious profile

Hilmi Aminuddin's low-profile preference has rendered numerous speculations, among them of his close involvement with the intelligence community during the authoritarian Soeharto era, which ended in 1998, to control radical Islamic movements.

His close ties with former intelligence officer and PKS senior politician Suripto also helped cement speculation. Suripto has repeatedly denied such allegations, saying his relationship with Hilmi started from his admiration of his charisma as a cleric back in the mid-1980s.

Although his contribution to the PKS was rooted long before the party was established, Hilmi was a relatively unknown cleric before he took the helm of the Majelis Syuro in 2005. His name was not even listed among the party's 52 "official" founding fathers, who signed the party's declaration of establishment on Aug. 9, 1998, as then the Justice Party (PK).

Igo Ilham, a Jakarta councillor and one of the party's founders, however, called Hilmi's role during the party's early days "vital". "Ustadz Hilmi was our political and strategic consultant prior to the party's establishment," Igo said.

Hilmi's father was Danu Muhammad Hasan, a prominent figure of the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) separatist movement.

According to University of Indonesia researcher Yon Machmudi's doctorate dissertation, Islamization Indonesia: the Rise of Jemaah Tarbiyah and the PKS in 2008, Hilmi was raised by a family of Muslim traditionalists. When Yon asked Hilmi whether he was involved in his father's NII activities, he denied it, saying, "He [Danu] was my biological father but not my ideological one."

Hilmi studied at Nahdlatul Ulama's prestigious Tebuireng boarding school in Jombang, East Java, and graduated in 1958. During his studies in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s, he began establishing contacts with leaders of the Egypt-based Ikhwanul Muslimin movement.

In 1984, Hilmi was arrested and held in Indonesian Military detention for allegedly possessing and distributing a confidential government document containing an intelligence report intended to discredit Islamic groups. However, he was released the same year.

Hilmi and his wife, Nining Suningsih, 60, have five children. Their eldest, Kania, 39, is a physician, while the second child, Wildan Hakim, who earned a Master's degree from International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, is a director of the Nurul Fikri boarding school.

Their third child, Tina, graduated also from a Pakistan university, while the fourth, Ridwan Hakim, used to study at a college in London, the United Kingdom, but decided to cut short his studies and returned home. Hilmi's youngest child, Eva Fadila, 24, currently works as a designer.

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