Sunday, October 18, 2009

Deposed Indonesian leaders and traffic lights

Many people laughed when his long-time driver and aides revealed the most difficult reality that Soeharto had to confront after losing his 32-years power on May 21, 1998: His car had to stop at red traffic lights! For 32 years Soeharto never experienced a traffic holdup because according to state protocol, the president and vice president are privileged to be free from any traffic restrictions. In daily practice, ministers, senior government officials, senior police and military generals also enjoy the same privilege, although actually this is strictly speaking against government regulations.

Jusuf Kalla, who will end his five-years as vice president on Tuesday, will likely repeat Soeharto’s experience.He will be no longer escorted by the National Police (Polri) and the Presidential Security Force (Paspampres) when he travels.

History will probably record Kalla as Indonesia’s most powerful vice president compared to his nine predecessors. But hopefully the same history book will not mention him as the only former vice president who went to court to face abuse of power and corruption indictments. In the last 11 years, courts have sent several former ministers and government officials to jail in corruption cases. Kalla’s position was more fragile compared to other former vice presidents because he was the only businessman among them.

In the coming days perhaps dozens of people will have to meet their psychiatrist after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has announced his full Cabinet line up. According to insiders, Yudhoyono received hundreds of applications for ministerial positions which arrived through various channels including via his mother in law. But the April legislative elections had much worse results (for the hopeful candidates). Hundreds of people had to go to mental hospitals after their failure in the election, and a pregnant woman even reportedly committed suicide as she could not cope with defeat.

With Boediono as his new deputy, SBY will start his second term on Tuesday. And he is expected to swear in his Cabinet on the next day. We do hope that Boediono will perform better than Kalla. There is fear however that the next government will not be able to move fast because both SBY and Boediono are very cautious in taking decisions.

There is also another fear that to a certain extent, the history of Soeharto will be repeated again. As nearly all the political parties represented in the House have joined SBY’s camp, there will be no effective checks and balances against the government. The House of Representatives can become a mere rubber stamp. We need to remember that SBY is a retired Army general, who was never trained to listen to criticism.

Year 2014 is still far away, but those who think they are the best persons to replace SBY in 2014 must prepare themselves from now. They need to learn from the experience of US President Barack Obama who prepared himself years before the 2008 election.

Perhaps we do not realize the progress we have achieved with democracy. For 32 years until Soeharto’s disgraced fall in May 1998, it was an act of subversion to declare an interest in possibly becoming the president. Any Indonesian who declared his wish to do so could end up in jail. There was a joke at that time there were only three presidents in this country: President Soeharto, the notorious President Taxi fleet and the President Hotel (which now became the Nikko Hotel). The president appointed all the members of the House of Representatives (DPR) and of the country’s highest institution, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

The Jakarta Post Opinion

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