Indonesia: The Hidden Price of Aklamasi


Partyforumseasia: As reported, the recent Bali congress of the PDI-P has  “reelected” Megawati Sukarnoputri by acclamation. With the weight of her family background as daughter of the nation’s founding president she would have won a real election as well, but the political culture has not yet arrived there. Not all Indonesians and certainly not all PDI-P members like this procedure, but if unconditional allegiance to the party line is being promoted before and during the congress, open internal dissent is not very probable. MegaJokowi

Photo: A traditional gesture of respect, but the matriarch seems to appreciate more than that.

The more vitriolic were media comments on “aklamasi”. The Jakarta Post quotes the definition of the English word acclamation as: “a vote to accept or approve someone or something that is done by cheers, shouts, or applause” (Merriam-Webster).
The comment (link here) continues:
But in the Indonesian context, the dictionary’s definition sounds euphemistic. In order for any political party chief to be elected by way of aklamasi, they have to exert formidable political and financial resources for backroom lobbying ahead of a national party congress.
This way, the congress is nothing but a ceremony to formalize the “election” or “reelection” of party leaders without the participants actually casting their ballots. All party executives who have voting rights have been effectively mobilized during preparatory meetings to agree to give their incumbent chief another term by way musyawarah-mufakat (deliberation for consensus). It is in this forum that the real battle happens.
Then when the party congress opens, the committee announces the aklamasi while the participants accept it by thunderous cheers, shouts, or applause. No objections are raised. What a sweet moment for the (re-)elected chief!”
The paper criticizes that “aklamasi” is a relic of Suharto’s New Order dictatorship but still widely practiced in the country:
“The dominant strong, charismatic leaders, such as the PDI-P’s Megawati, the Democratic Party’s Yudhoyono, Gerindra’s Prabowo and the NasDem Party’s Surya Paloh, has given rise to the prevailing feudalistic aklamasi election tactic. They are highly revered because they are founders of their respective parties. So powerful and revered are they, they have practically become cult leaders. Dissent is easily silenced. A member’s political rise often depends on his or her loyalty to the supreme leader instead of on real merit.”

The conclusion of the article is certainly correct, but reveals a sad undertone: “The politics of aklamasi proves that oligarchies give rise to political corruption, cronyism and dynasties. Public trust is wearing thin as political parties are failing to prepare future national leaders and to promote democracy.” 
Other prominent Indonesian publications like The Jakarta Globe (link here) and Tempo  (link here) are similarly critical about these shortcomings which are too visible for the country’s voters and undermine the belief in fast consolidation of Indonesia’s  fledgling democracy. Especially detrimental are promotions of sycophants in the party hierarchy, even if they have been under suspicion of corruption.
By coincidence, The Economist, a British news magazine, has taken up the topic of dynasties in business and politics in its newest edition (April 18th – 24th 2015).

Strategy-wise: Blood is thicker than water, and too many leaders trust bootlickers more than courageous people who tell them unpleasant truths. Democratic procedures inside the parties are still underdeveloped in Indonesia.
Finally: Trust is good, control is better (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov alias Lenin).

Mega Power – Mega’s Party Congress


Partyforumseasia:  As much as this forum supports female participation and leadership in politics, it hears alarm bells in the language used to report Megawati Sukarnoputri’s (aka “Mega”)  re-acclamation (not re-election!!) as leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) over this weekend in a party congress in Bali. PDI-P, with 109 mandates, is the biggest party in the Indonesian parliament and brought President Joko Widodo or Jokowi to power.
MegaJokowi3



Ms Megawati
, the sixty-eight year old former president and daughter of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno is leading the party since 1999 and has now been confirmed for another five years. Not openly challenged, she lashed out nevertheless at “opportunists eying the presidency”, thus being seen as insisting on her towering role and supreme command, and reminding the cadres that they are “servants of the party“. That reminds somehow of Louis XIV’s famous dictum “L’état c’est moi” or “The state, it is I”.  But in a patriarchal society like Indonesia female leadership is certainly not easy. Megawati warned already at the beginning of the congress that cadres who don’t fall in line with the party will be ousted.

As much as Megawati may feel that President Jokowi owes his election mainly to her, it will endanger his presidency if he is being seen as her puppet. That is, by the way, a wonderful theme for the country’s witty and rather disrespectful cartoonists. With the proverbial Javanese courtesy Jokowi avoids direct confrontation, but the relationship is getting more difficult the longer he is in office.

Another worrying sign of potentially dangerous leadership hubris, maybe with a pinch of “megalomania”, is the list of handpicked loyalist appointees for the top 27 key party positions, including her two children,  daughter Puan Maharani, Minister for Human Development and Culture, who chairs the Committee on Politics and Security, and son Prananda Prabowo who will lead the Creative Economy Committee. Close loyalist Hasto Kristiyanto has been promoted to secretary-general.

Strategy-wise: Handpicking loyalists is, of course, quite common in party politics. But the inherent danger lies in a lack of corrective dialogue and contradiction by all too subservient loyalists in case the great leader has a bad idea. As the Roman political orator and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote some 2059 years ago, you can learn more from an enemy than from compliant friends.

“Who owns Jokowi?” or Political Funding in Indonesia


Partyforumseasia: In “Indonesia”, no. 96, October 2013, pp. 1-121, the Cornell Southeast Asia Program focuses on the political science debates about Indonesia’s political funding in the democratic era. The volume contains five essays by prominent researchers, namely Jeffrey A. Winters, Vedi R. Hadiz and Richard Robison, R. William Liddle, Thomas B. Pepinsky, and Edward Aspinall. Jokowi
Three of them are working on the importance – and problem – of oligarchic influence on the politics of Indonesia. Hadiz, Robison, and Winters share the concept that material resources as a form of both economic and political power count most in Indonesia’s politics. The breathtaking speed with which the well-oiled and well-funded machinery of candidate Prabowo managed to reduce the twenty odd percent lead in most opinion polls of rival Jokowi during only some weeks of campaigning in June and July this year seems to support the theory. And Prabowo, his billionaire brother Hashim Djojokusumo, Golkar’s chairman Aburizal Bakrie and other allies and supporters must have been of the same opinion. Obviously they did not expect that Jokowi could win with a clear majority of over six per cent or eight million votes, which seduced Prabowo to jeopardize a lot of his credibility by not accepting the results and being seen as a bad loser.
Winters, Hadiz and Robison come to the conclusion that only a revolutionary degree of political change could disrupt the nexus between wealth and political power. Liddle, Pepinsky, and Aspinall, on the other hand, challenge the oligarchy paradigm and focus on other and new political actors with mobilization power beside the remaining power brokers from the old Suharto “New Order”. Published in October 2013 and irrespective of their competing hypotheses, probably none of the scholars could have predicted that an outsider and political newcomer like Jokowi could have so successfully challenged the political and economic establishment of Indonesia.
But Winters also highlights the effect of the scandalous corruption which allows even oligarchs with moderate means to “buy and distort the legal system, from the police and prosecutors up to the judges and politicians.” (p.19). Since variety and freedom of the media have been exposing these multiple “pathologies” and their undercutting of the reformasi gains, the voters have reacted the way they did on 9 July 2014 buy giving Jokowi a convincing majority over Prabowo and the oligarchs behind him.
But wait a minute, this simplified picture is too nice to be true. Jokowi is certainly not an oligarch, only a “minor millionaire” with assets of something between three and five million USD. The typical Indonesian shadow play (wayang) is hiding some rather interesting details about Jokowi’s election as Jakarta governor in 2012. Tempo magazine on 24 July of that year offered some juicy details of the funding behind candidacy and victory under the title “Who owns Jokowi?“. Prabowo, his oligarch brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, ex-president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Gerindra and PDI-P parties were involved, but also many grassroots organizations. Only at that time Prabowo could not imagine or foresee that Jokowi was to become a rival for the presidency. Winters has detailed background information on the oligarchic support for Jokowi in 2012 (p. 23 ff). As usual in politics everywhere, façade, perception, tactics and strategies make it difficult to see the reality. The office gives president Jokowi a chance to make himself more independent financially (in both meanings..) and to reduce oligarchic influence on his administration, but he must play his cards skilfully and ruthlessly.

Mega – Strategy – Pro Jokowi?


MegaThe coincidence of parliamentary and presidential elections in April makes the next months exciting for Indonesian voters and outside observers alike. Journalists and political analysts are rolling the Jokowicrystal ball back and forth, but getting reliable information about the strategic debates inside the political parties and their inner circles is more difficult than ever. With outgoing President Yudhoyono the popularity of his Democratic Party being in free fall, opposition PDI-P leader and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri (67) might be tempted to run again herself. But for many the high poll results for Joko Widodo (52, also known as Jokowi), the most popular governor of Jakarta, seem to make his candidacy a much better bet. Megawati, who still commands high respect and loyalty in the party, would probably squander the party’s chance to victory.
Merdeka.com 17.2.14
At least a growing part of the membership see it this way and try to urge an early nomination with a group called “PDI-P Pro-Jokowi”. A decision against Megawati may remain unthinkable, but intense debates within the PDI-P leadership and among the rank and file members are completely normal. There is no need to dramatize a supposed split in the party. Keeping media, voters and political competitors in the dark and guessing can be a cheap campaign tool in a country with exponentially increasing campaign costs for the parties.
Source of poll results: Merdeka.com 17.2.2104