Saturday, September 27, 2014

Brutal Reality Check for Indonesia's President-elect Jokowi

THE late-night, last-minute bid by outgoing MPs to turn back the clock on Indonesia's democratisation by revoking direct elections for local leaders is a brutal reality check for President-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his deputy Jusuf Kalla.

With Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) and its allies controlling just 37 per cent of seats in the incoming House so far, he will have an uphill battle pushing through unpopular, yet needed, reforms, even if widely backed by the man in the street.

But that is precisely what his opponents want.

If the Constitutional Court rejects an imminent challenge to the new law on electing district heads - effectively upholding it - governors, regents and mayors will soon mostly be from parties that backed defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, who call themselves the Red-White Coalition after the colours of the national flag.

This is because these district chiefs will be elected by their respective assemblies. And Golkar and the three Muslim parties in the grouping - United Development Party (PPP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Mandate Party (PAN) - together with Mr Prabowo's Gerindra, now command a majority of seats in some two-thirds of these local Parliaments.

This makes it harder for outsiders like Mr Joko to rise to prominence and thereby threaten the existing political elite. Observers also fear the indebted district chiefs could block government projects and outside investment in their districts.

Said analyst Bawono Kumoro of The Habibie Centre: "This is clearly part of the Red-White Coalition's grand scenario to create political disturbances throughout the Jokowi-Jusuf Kalla administration over the next five years."

On one level, this tactic appears motivated by revenge over its loss in the July presidential polls.

That loss saw the coalition - where Golkar chief Aburizal Bakrie and PAN founder Amien Rais are key players - last month reverse its earlier support for direct polls and champion indirect ones instead.

Analysts say many seasoned politicians see a new crop of credible regional leaders like Mr Joko as a threat to business-as-usual, with their commitment to reform the bureaucracy and fight graft.

"It seems they want regional leaders who will accommodate their projects and business interests, who will support their political agenda and maintain their influence for the next five years," said Mr Vishnu Juwono of the University of Indonesia. "It is also a signal to Jokowi that he is going to face a sophisticated, disciplined, political machine."

But many note that Indonesia's political arrangements have been fairly fluid, and political consultant Dimas Oky Nugroho said the PDI-P and its partners need to be more adept at lobbying other political forces to ensure a stable Jokowi administration.

Paramadina University's Dr Djayadi Hanan feels Mr Joko's team needs to consider more serious political negotiations, especially as its chance to win this latest battle was possible in the last few days.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party could have been on their side, but its MPs walked out early yesterday morning.

With Mr Joko apparently failing to make any significant concession in sharing a slice of the political power pie with the Democrats, let alone with smaller parties like PPP and PAN, any deal was off.

His opponents are milking their win.

Yesterday, Mr Prabowo drummed up nationalist rhetoric, telling incoming coalition MPs foreign media had attacked their decision to scrap direct polls.

"What business do they have running Indonesia? Hundreds of millions of our people are under the poverty line. Do they care for us?" he said. "They want Indonesia to be a cash cow that cannot die because it has to be milked, looked after, fattened. Fed grass, but with a rope through the nose."

The Straits Times Singapore

1 comment:

  1. Requiem for democracy
    Instead of progressing, Indonesian democracy is regressing after the House of Representatives voted early Friday to seize the right to elect regional leaders from the people and give it back to regional legislative councils (DPRDs). Sadly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has contributed to the setback by failing to live up to his supposed support for direct elections.

    Unless the Constitutional Court annuls the regional election system, our hard-won democracy will take a further dive as members of the DPRD who have the power to elect regional leaders will have to heed the wishes of their party bosses instead of the people. The nation chose the direct election of regional leaders in 2004 to acknowledge the people’s right to decide their own future amid a deficit of trust in their representatives in the legislative bodies.

    A number of directly elected regional heads have been implicated in, or convicted of, corruption, most recently Riau Governor Annas Maamun who was caught in the act by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on Thursday night. But this should not justify the termination of direct elections because, as the KPK has warned, indirect elections will allow vote-buying to go unchecked.

    Following the protracted drama, which ended in a 226-135 vote to pass the controversial bill, we fear the public’s loss of confidence in politicians will loom larger than ever. Not so much because the seizure of the people’s right took place in a conspiracy by a coalition of parties that lost the July presidential race but will unfortunately dominate the House in the 2014-2019 term, but especially because it happened when the nation was being lauded for its democratic practices.

    That Yudhoyono was later caught on the receiving end, as evident in the #shameonyousby trending topic on Twitter, is understandable, despite his televised speech from Washington to express his “disappointment” with the Democratic Party’s withdrawal from the House plenary session and his plan to seek legal ways to revive the direct regional elections.

    As the powerful chairman of the party, which currently holds 148 House seats, Yudhoyono could have ordered his lawmakers not to walk out of the decision-making process merely after the party’s belated attempt to have its 10 recommendations to improve the quality of regional elections accommodated by the House failed.

    Questions about Yudhoyono’s support for direct elections have been increasingly rife after one of his party’s lawmakers, Ruhut Sitompul, said it was the party’s paramount leader who ordered its legislators to walk out of the House plenary session, paving the way for the House to approve indirect regional elections.

    Indonesian democracy will again rest on the conscience of Constitutional Court justices, who on Aug. 21 defied the power of the mob to uphold the people’s choice of their president and vice president.

    Challenging a law at the Constitutional Court may incite legal uncertainty, but for sure we cannot let democracy come under threat.