Partyforumseasia: The infamous e-ID card graft case is hotting up. Golkar chairman and speaker of parliament Setya Novanto has been named as a suspect, and so far, managed to get away. He is no unknown to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which he fights as an enemy of the political establishment. Gresnews, a publication focusing on Indonesian legal and political issues, called his record “Setya Novanto´s Chain of Scandals” on 17 November 2016 (LINK).
Novanto who had to resign end of 2015 in a bribery scandal of epic dimensions, was eventually cleared and re-appointed as House Speaker in 2016, and was again declared a suspect by KPK in June 2017. The new case, according to KPK, investigates the theft of 170 million USD from a project to issue electronic identity cards for the 255 million Indonesians. Sums between 5,000 and 5.5 million USD, the indictment letter states, had been openly divided up in a room in Parliament, involving at least 37 beneficiaries.
The KPK has been threatened of dissolution by its many enemies within the political elite, but President Jokowi’s reform policies may prevent such a move because it would be extremely unpopular. The question now is how tight the noose around Novanto’s neck might be or become. It is probably a sign of weakness for him to protest heart problems for not showing up for KPK hearings, but his doctors have declared him fit enough in the meantime. Obviously he has tried before some politicking in the background to influence the South Jakarta District Court to order the KPK to drop its investigation. More than 80 witnesses have already testified against him in the KPK hearings, though.
The special Indonesian background:
Political parties need funding for their activities, lots of funding for their election campaigns, and even more funding if they buy votes and pay the canvassers.
The Indonesian party system has developed rather creative ways of raising the necessary funds by privatising the fund raising. One is the recruitment of oligarchs who can inject bigger amounts, the other one is the “scalping” of the many development and infrastructure projects which are available in the expanding economy and increasing state income of Indonesia. The mechanism is simple, in most cases the member of parliament manages to “sponsor” a project by influencing the decision making in the Parliament or a ministry, and gets a “commission”, regularly up to one third of the total cost. That method is anything but uncommon in the region in different varieties, and certainly not unknown in other parts of the world.
What sets Indonesia apart is the mindboggling size of some of the commissions paid. Since everybody knows about these procedures, many politicians have dropped any remaining reluctance to grab whatever they can get. And, no surprise, these financial skills are highly attractive for the political parties. This is one of the reasons why Setya Novanto made it back to the helm of the Golkar Party.
Partyforumseasia: Indonesia has been rather radical though quite successful in reducing the number of political parties in the democratic era since the ouster of Suharto. An all too splintered party system is risky for a fledgling democracy in many ways, starting from confusing election outcomes and ending in the lack of transparency about vested interests and problematic interference of business influence. President Widodo’s role as leader of the nation is still heavily handicapped with his lack of a parliamentary majority and continuing infighting in parties like Golkar and PPP, this is why stability of the party system is important. On this background and given the prevailing practices of funding and money politics it may be rather daring to start a new party from scratch. But the leader and figurehead of the new party, 32 year old Grace Natalie, may have some good arguments for her initiative. “She is young and beautiful. Her political party, Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), or the Indonesian Solidarity Party, was established only in March this year as an “open, pluralist and nationalist” organization. Yet, about a week ago, 32-year old Grace Natalie, former journalist and television presenter, declared that PSI is ready to contest in the 2019 general election. Claiming to be a party by young people and for the young people, the PSI will early this month (June 2015) formally invite Indonesian citizens to register themselves online with the party if they wish to become its cadres or supporters. Registration is made through its website, intro.psi.or.id.” writes the news startup Global Indonesian Voices (Link).
Good looks are getting more important in politics world wide, though former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from Thailand is not the best example in this context because she is in trouble now. But there is certainly a groundswell among Indonesian voters against the same old macho and money style politics, especially among younger voters. The young party seems to have met already the rather demanding organizational requirements of the party law. Grace Natalie says that they have already established chapters in all 34 provinces and in almost all of the 412 regencies/cities with around 1,000 cadres at the provincial and regency/city levels. The Jakarta Post calls Grace Natalie “The anomaly in Indonesian politics” (Link). Yes, an anomaly she is, the strong lady in Indonesia’s politics, Megawati Sukarnoputri, chairperson of PDI-P, is known for a rather authoritarian style which reminds of the Suharto years and what socio-political analyst Julia Suryakusuma has described as “State Ibuism” (see link to Inside Indonesia for an update on this concept).
Partyforumseasia: Indonesia’s traditional shadow play (wayang kulit) has often been used to describe the political scene. The public can only see what happens on the screen and everything behind the scene remains hidden. The art of party politics tries to hide all the backroom deals and unpopular internal quarrels in order to entertain the target groups with clean-cut but often enough illusory pictures.
What happens these days with the Golkar party seems to be a sort of reverse wayang kulit. The power struggle and factional fight is all too visible in front of the screen and its ambitious chairman Abrizal Bakrie (ARB) can no longer hold the party together.
Golkar (or Functional Groups), formed as an instrument of president Suharto’s infamous guided democracy, was the ruling party since 1973 and coalition partner under president Yudhoyono in the democratic era. This long participation in government also means that many members have enjoyed the spoils of power and are not very amused that their chairman is keeping them now in the opposition.
Aburizal Bakrie is a rather controversial leader. Part of a family business conglomerate, he was considered the richest Indonesian in 2007 by Forbes, but does not appear on the Forbes Asia List any more. His brother was a big sponsor of presidential candidate Prabowo whose defeat spoiled Bakrie’s ambition for the vice presidency after he could not get the presidential nomination of his own party. Golkar is still the second biggest party but many blame its vote plunge from 22 to 14 per cent on the chairman.
Bakrie has probably punched above his real weight by calling a convention ahead of schedule in Bali, outmaneuvering possible rivals by sacking them, and changing the party rules to be re-elected by acclamation instead of the usual secret ballots. This authoritarian and undemocratic style may well fan the discontent of party members further.
Meantime, only a week after the Bali convention and with endorsement of former chairman and now vice president Jusuf Kalla, Bakrie’s critics have organized an alternative party congress and elected former deputy chairman Agung Laksono, who is also leader of the so-called “Presidium of the Golkar Party’s Saviors” as Golkar Chairman. Since two competing chairmen are not foreseen in the party’s constitution, both camps have submitted their election results to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights for confirmation.
Whether the ministry finds a Solomonic solution or not, the party split is too obvious and Golkar dangerously at the crossroads.