Debates may still be raging over how close to politics the Nadhlatul Ulama is, but two of the candidates eyeing the group’s chairmanship are actually politicians: a former and a current lawmaker.
One of them is Ali Maschan Moesa, an active legislator representing the National Awakening Party (PKB), which former NU chairman Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid founded in 1998 to channel the political aspiration of NU members.
The other is former Golkar Party lawmaker Slamet Effendy Yusuf.
Both have expressed optimism that they can secure the necessary 99 votes to be able to enter the race for the NU chairmanship scheduled for Saturday, the last day of the organization’s 32nd national congress.
The two candidates on Wednesday played down the influence of their political experience.
“I am ready to sign my resignation letter and hand that to the House of Representatives once I am elected as a chairman,” said Ali Maschan, 54, who holds a doctorate from the University of Airlangga in Surabaya.
Ali Maschan noted that he has led NU in East Java for 10 years. He said he shares with the organization the specific goal of leading people back to the guidance of ulemas, or Muslim clerics. He pointed out that during his leadership the NU in East Java was able to construct a Rp 11 billion ($1.21 million) office building and donate Rp 4 billion in relief after the 2004 tsunami in Aceh.
He also highlighted the chapter’s program of collecting and donating rice, which he said “worked better than the [government] cash hand-out program [BLT].”
Ali Maschan said in the future he wanted NU to focus on building harmony in the group, a commitment to education and community and spiritual development. He claimed he already had an agenda that he could implement once voted in as chairman, but he declined to share it.
“I have a detailed program on how the plan will work. Of course, I will realize it once I hold the position,” he said.
With similar programs of education and community empowerment, the politically savvy Slamet is also confident he can muster significant support from the congress.
He said he was now free from politics after his stint at the House of Representatives from 1992 to 2009. “I understand politics, but I will never bring NU into any political practices,” he said.
He said he wanted to boost NU’s educational section by establishing a university. “I want it to be an excellent university,” he said.
“I am bored already with discourse. I want a concrete plan.”
The five other viable candidates for chairman include senior NU executive Salahuddin Wahid, current deputy chairmen Said Aqil Siradj, Ahmad Bagdja and Masdar Farid Mas’udi, as well as young NU Muslim intellectual Ulil Abshar Abdalla.