Sunday, September 8, 2013

Indonesia’s 2014 elections - Let the games begin

THESE days few Indonesians pay much attention to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The president cuts a forlorn figure: he still has just over a year left in office, but steady underachievement during his two terms has so diminished him that politicians long ago turned to the more exciting matter of his successor. Next year the presidential election takes place in July, after parliamentary elections in April. After months of shadow-boxing, the contest to succeed Mr Yudhoyono is set to become more lively

Some parties have already nominated their presidential candidate. The nominations of the two most prominent candidates, Prabowo Subianto and Aburizal Bakrie, were foregone conclusions. Mr Subianto, after all, heads the party he founded, Gerindra; Mr Bakrie, a dominant businessman, is both chairman of the Golkar party and a chief financier of it. Both are well-known. Mr Subianto is a former special-forces commander who contested the vice-presidency in 2009.

By contrast, Mr Yudhoyono’s ruling Democrat Party (DP) says it will spice up the race by using a novel process to choose its candidate: throwing the choice open to the public. The party’s “high council”, chaired by the outgoing president, has selected ten-odd candidates, many of them senior party members and ministers. But the DP has also set up another committee, made up entirely of non-party members, among them an academic and a former head of the anti-corruption agency. Its job is to find other possible contenders from outside the party. Their names will be added to those from the high council in mid-September, after which each candidate’s suitability will be tested in opinion polls over eight months. The winner will be named after the parliamentary elections.

An inside job?

It sounds good, but for all the appearance of consultation, some claim that Mr Yudhoyono has already stitched up the nomination, just as the other parties do. He has parachuted the recently retired head of the army, Pramono Edhie Wibowo, into the top echelons of the DP and put him on the list of the high council’s candidates. Mr Wibowo happens to be the brother-in-law of the president, who presumably favours him. In recent days several who were invited to join the list of possible independent candidates, including a former chief justice of the constitutional court, have withdrawn. They cite doubts about the integrity of the process.

Effendi Gazali, an academic and anti-corruption activist and one of those on the independent committee, insists that the DP’s new process is “competitive and open” and “good for Indonesia’s political education”. Certainly, it cannot harm the party. After a string of corruption scandals involving party officials and ministers, its level of support in opinion polls has fallen to single digits.

One person who has already rejected the DP’s overtures to put his name in its hat is Joko Widodo, usually known by his nickname Jokowi. In polls Jokowi, the 52-year-old governor since last year of Jakarta, the capital, is by a wide margin the favourite choice as the next president. Younger Indonesians in particular like his more informal style.

Compared with the staid old ways of carrying on politics, exemplified by Mr Subianto and Mr Bakrie, Jokowi offers a fresh approach. He has a good record from a seven-year stint as mayor of the city of Solo, in central Java. Mr Yudhoyono’s government has abjectly failed to deal with many of the country’s problems, especially its endemic corruption and lousy infrastructure. Jokowi, the argument goes, could be just the man to inject much-needed drive and clarity into Indonesia’s lumbering governmental system.

One problem, however, is that he is not a formal candidate. He insists that he needs to concentrate on running Jakarta, a big enough job in itself. Yet pressure on him to run will mount, not least from within his own party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia’s first president and herself president from 2001 to 2004. Though she may have abiding ambitions to take the presidency again, Jokowi’s popularity means that she is likely to give way to him. And since coalitions are usual, her party may yet team up with the DP. That is for the future, but it is exactly the sort of speculation that will shove Mr Yudhoyono deeper into the shade in the coming months. The Economist

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