October 5, 2012
Lessons from Indonesian Politics
by Karim Raslan (10-02-12)@http://www.thestar.com.my
Lessons to be learnt from the changing fortunes of Indonesian political parties.
This week, I’d like to focus on the importance of political parties in Indonesia and elsewhere. Political observers have tended to dismiss the power and influence wielded by political parties as well as their capacity for renewal.
Indeed, prior to Jokowi’s win, analysts tended to focus solely on their relative financial clout and resources. By such a yardstick, Golkar and the ruling Democrats seemed much more potent than the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Now in the aftermath of Jokowi’s stunning victory, however, we’re supposed to disregard parties because apparently they’re all corrupt and ineffective.
Indeed, these qualities have made Jokowi and his key promoter in the Jakarta gubernatorial polls, ex-General Prabowo Subianto (right), winners.
But notwithstanding the complaints of Indonesia’s elder statesman Taufik Kiemas that the Jakarta contest boosted Prabowo’s popularity and not his wife Megawati Soekarnoputri’s, the polls actually highlighted certain underlying strengths of her party, the PDI-P.
If Jokowi’s success was all about the individual candidate’s qualities, we should ask ourselves: where then are all these remarkable figures? For starters, Jokowi himself is a proud PDI-P cadre, as witnessed by his effusive thanks to Megawati in his victory speech. Many attractive young leaders in Indonesia today are PDI-P members.
This is no accident. From the moment Megawati lost the 2004 presidential election and went into opposition, the PDI-P has benefited from being denied access to government patronage.
Power does corrupt. People who join a party in opposition, however, often do so out of conviction.Of course, the going has been tough. Starved of funds, younger PDI-P cadres have had to work much harder.
But this might have been a blessing in disguise. Many of Indonesia’s recent corruption scandals have involved the ruling parties – especially the Democrats – who seem to have drowned (almost literally) under a sea of riches.
Conversely, smaller, newer parties, like Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), lack PDI-P’s stock of potential leaders. They just don’t have the critical mass.
Indeed, Prabowo had to resort to luring Basuki (“Ahok”) Tjahaja Purnama, a Golkar parliamentarian, to run with Jokowi. Gerinda’s weakness may eventually hobble Prabowo’s presidential ambitions or force him to accept neutralising coalitions.
The PDI-P’s investment in human capital has paid off. As I said, being excluded from largesse has worked to their advantage. So who are these second-tier leaders?
First, we have academics and activists-turned-members of the House of Representatives (DPR), like Ganjar Pranowo and Eva Kusuma Sundari from Central and East Java respectively.
Ganjar championed the law depoliticising the governorship of Yogyakarta, while Eva has defended human rights and religious pluralism – speaking out on the GKI Yasmin church issue.
Both are known for their incorruptibility and fearlessness. Fresh-faced and good-looking, Ganjar has also made waves as deputy head of the DPR’s Commission II, which oversees home affairs.
There’s also fellow parliamentarian and former actress Rieke Diah Pitaloka, whose advocacy of Indonesian workers’ rights both at home and abroad proves she’s not just a pretty face. She has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the governorship of West Java.
Also remarkable is another West Java PDI-P DPR member, Maruarar Sirait. As a Christian Batak, the Medan-born Maruarar (right) has been a Megawati loyalist in the footsteps of his father, the tough-talking Sabam Sirait.
Maruar or “Ara”, as he’s better known, has been outspoken on the hot-button issues of banking and mining.
Other PDI-P local leaders, such as the Cambridge-educated East Java MP Budiman Sudjatmiko; the feisty, reformist mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini; and Central Java Deputy Governor Rustriningsih, who won accolades as Kebumen’s Regent, complete the list.
None are “professional politicians” in the conventional sense, but they give PDI-P the substance that Prabowo’s Gerinda is in want of.
This is not to say that the PDI-P is perfect. Should it win back power, it has a lot to prove in light of Megawati’s under-performing first term in office.
Happily, there are precedents for this: Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost power in 2000 after ruling for 71 years. It has now returned with its 46-year old head, Enrique Pena Nieto, capturing the presidency.
Had PDI-P and PRI not been voted out, figures like Jokowi and Enrique may have wasted their political careers as special officer-types, or left out in favour of political princelings.
Instead, a spell in opposition has empowered their parties and proved to be the making of them. Sometimes the key to resurrecting a party is for it to lose power.