Megawati Sukarnoputri continues to dominate Indonesias’s PDI-P


Partyforumseasia: When Mrs. Megawati was Vice-President of Indonesia between 1999 and 2001, the visually handicapped President Abdurrahman Wahid or Gus Dur was describing the two as: “We’re the best team, I can’t see and she can’t speak.” She may not be an exciting public speaker, but the political influence of the daughter of Indonesia’s founding President Sukarno is absolutely remarkable. Last Thursday, August 8th, she was re-elected as chair of her PDI-P party by acclamation, even before her accountability speech for the last five years of her already 20 years of leadership. And she also denied the rumors that, due to her age of 72, she would hand over her day-to-day duties to daughter Puan Maharani and son Prananda Prabowo. Chairing the party since 1999, Megawati, or Mega, in short, is a constant factor in the country’s democratic journey since the end of the autocratic Suharto era in 1998.
Megawati’s authority in the party is unchallenged. The delegates at the national party congress in Bali, representing 34 provinces and more than 500 regencies and cities, as well as the central board leaders, were far from changing their ” winning horse”. With 109 MPs and 19.3 % of the 140 million eligible voters, PDI-P is not only the biggest party in the Indonesian Parliament but has also successfully supported the re-election of President Joko Widodo.

As it happens often enough, a ruling party attracts more and more support and the willingness of smaller parties to join in as coalition partners. For a long time after President Jokowi’s victory in the April 2019 election, his losing challenger, former general Prabowo, had protested against the results because he alleged massive fraud. So, Prabowo’s participation in the Bali PDI-P convention is a possible landmark for reconciliation, maybe even for entry of his Gerindra party into the ruling coalition. Mrs. Megawati may not be a fiery public speaker but obviously a convincing mediator at the end, which certainly is a blessing for the political stability and further democratic development of Indonesia.

Indonesia’s Democratic Progress


Partyforumseasia: A nation with over 190 million eligible voters is preparing for the presidential and legislative elections on 17 April in an increasingly feverish atmosphere. The presidential contenders, incumbent President Joko Widodo or Jokowi and his narrowly defeated challenger from five years ago, former general Prabowo Subianto, have used strategically chosen vice-presidential candidates and met in a series of public debates without clear winners. But Jokowi is still leading in the polls, as usual with a shrinking margin over Prabowo to keep the race exciting for the last days of campaigning.

In the huge Indonesian archipelago with more than 17.000 islands, over 300 ethnic groups, and very different levels of development and modernization, the organizational challenges of nationwide elections are already immense. But the young Indonesian democracy has so far shown quite a decent outcome, despite many flaws and open flanks. One is the ubiquitous vote-buying, which is also rampant in most countries in Southeast Asia. Because of a major 170 m US$ financial scandal with the introduction of identity cards, for which former house speaker Setya Novanto is serving 15 years in jail, several million voters without the ID card may be excluded from voting. Novanto was also a chairman of the Golkar party. Recently another Golkar parliamentarian, Bowo Sidik Pangarso, was caught with thousands of envelopes filled with cash in different denominations. At least a third of the voters have received cash for votes in the past, and according to polls, most voters accept that as normal, while for the many poor Indonesians some election cash is most welcome anyway. And the thumb rule is evident: Poor candidates never win a mandate,

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), though, is trying to stem the tide. A poster is urging the voters not to accept money: “Berani tolak gratifikasi” or “dare to refuse gratifications”. It may not be more than a starting point for a future change in election culture. The financial appetite of the political parties is an indicator that the candidates are still relying on cash handouts and other donations to their constituencies in the form of funds for mosques and sports facilities and the like. This is why, before the next president is confirmed, the horse trading for future coalitions and cabinet posts is already in full swing. Talking to journalists, Prabowo’s brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, revealed that in case of their victory, they would give seven ministerial posts to the National Mandate Party (PAN), and six to the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), two important members of their campaign coalition. Ministerial posts are the key to the huge number of development and infrastructure projects which serve as cash cows for parties and members of parliament to recoup the inevitable campaign costs. The skimming of these projects at a rate of between 10 and 30 percent is called “pencaloan anggaran” or “budget scalping“.

Another development looks more promising for Indonesia’s democratic progress. Among the 8000 odd candidates for the 575 seats in parliament are no less than 3,200 or roughly 40% women. The parties are forced by law to field at least 30% female candidates, but the numbers are going up. In the outgoing house, 17% of the MPs are female, so it will be interesting to see the outcome this year. The increasingly conservative mood in predominantly Muslim Indonesia is not really conducive for female careers in politics and business. But many younger women are just running with a scarf and all. Religious credentials play a strong role in this election. This is why incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo has chosen a leading Muslim cleric as his running mate.

For an overview of money politics in Southeast Asia see: ISBN: 978-981-3230-73-6
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Political Parties As They Come and Go…


Partyforumseasia: Three pieces of advice were quite shocking for the editor of this page when he joined a party as an idealistic young student: 1. Former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s warning about inner-party competition in three steps, “enemy, mortal enemy, party comrade”… 2. Former US President Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that if you need a friend in Washington you better buy a dog, and 3. The claim of a party veteran, “No power in the world can destroy our party, only we ourselves…”
Political parties come and go, some rather fast, some more slowly. Southeast Asia has many of the first kind, but also quite a number of very resilient ones, most of them in power for decades. The self-destruction by infighting and power struggles can be observed in three interesting cases at the moment, namely Golkar and National Mandate Party (PAN) in Indonesia and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

GolkarGolkar is the oldest party in Indonesia with decades of a very privileged ruling monopoly under President Suharto. Adapting to the democratic era it has survived so far (with 91 out of 560 seats in parliament), but ambitious chairman Aburizal Bakrie‘s failed gamble in the presidential election and sticking to the losing coalition may eventually destroy the party. An anti-Bakrie faction may prefer more flexibility and has elected a rival chairman, former welfare minister Agung Laksono. On 3 March, two of the four judges on the internal party tribunal have voted for him as legitimate leader, two others avoided a decision and want the case to be decided by a court of law instead. The Central Jakarta District Court had already earlier refused to invalidate the party’s Bali congress which re-elected Bakrie. This way Golkar has two competing factions with two chairmen fighting for legitimation. Without a binding decision of the internal party tribunal and the obvious reluctance of the courts to tip the scale, the party risks to break up and become irrelevant without a role in government. A European-style way out would be a ballot including all party members, but the fluidity of party membership in Indonesia might exclude this alternative anyway.

PANThe leadership feud in the National Mandate Party (PAN), with 49 out of 560 parliamentary seats, has similar roots as the one in Golkar. Chairman Hatta Rajasa, who was Probowo Subianto‘s running mate in their unsuccessful candidacy against President Jokowi, was narrowly defeated (292-286 votes) by challenger Zulkifli Hasan. The new chairman’s victory was supported by party stalwart Amien Rais who alleged in the party congress that Hatta Rajasa had secretly met with Jokowi and was not faithful to the Prabowo coalition, known as Red-White Coalition or KMP. Loser Prabowo’s inability to concede defeat after the presidential election in July 2014 is still creating ripples in the political party scene of Indonesia.

MICThe Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) was for many years the useful vote getter among Malaysia’s Indian citizens on behalf of UMNO and its National Front or Barisan Nasional coalition but is down to 4 seats out of 222 in parliament in the 2013 election. The crisis followed a decision of the  Registrar of Societies to nullify the internal elections in November and directing the party to hold fresh elections for the three vice-presidential and 23 Central Working Committee (CWC) posts. Since then members of the CWC are challenging the Registrar of Societies order in court in order to maintain the November results. Once at the courts it looks impossible to find an internal compromise. As usual, voters are disappointed and question the quality of the leadership, a common paradox in democracy, which is about debate over policy solutions and compromise.
Dangerous for the party and its survival is above all a public debate about its relevance for the Indian Malaysians. Not surprisingly, prominent Indians and many letters to the editor of Malaysian newspapers say very clearly that the MIC is not serving the Indian community at all.
Nota bene: Political parties are all and always work in progress and turn easily into endangered species!

PS: To be continued…

“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.

“Silverbacks” or Orang Utans – The Leadership Enigma in Southeast Asia


Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.

Partyforumseasia: The latest Economist (September 27th, p. 67) compares leadership “qualities” in the corporate world with dominant behavior among gorillas: Gorilla“IN GORILLA society, power belongs to silverback males. These splendid creatures have numerous status markers besides their back hair: they are bigger than the rest of their band, strike space-filling postures, produce deeper sounds, thump their chests lustily and, in general, exude an air of physical fitness. Things are not that different in the corporate world. The typical chief executive is more than six feet tall, has a deep voice, a good posture, a touch of grey in his thick, lustrous hair and, for his age, a fit body.”
OK, so much for the corporate world. Is it very different on the political stage? We had taken up the issue some time ago with the good looks of Yingluck Shinawatra, which certainly helped her to get accepted as Prime Minister of Thailand but didn’t protect her against being toppled as perceived proxy of her brother Thaksin.
Political leadership is probably related to a certain degree to “silverback” features from the gorilla world, but there are many exceptions to the list. From Napoleon to Sarkozy and many others, short politicians have been successful. The touch of grey in thick, lustrous hair? Not necessarily, Putin is nearly bald. Handsome or beautiful faces? Perhaps an asset but not necessarily. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao or Nixon were far from impressing by their features but mesmerizing men and many women alike.
There are research results in political psychology looking into why some politicians seem to be more trustworthy than others at first glance. The test persons (mostly students) had just one or two seconds to watch the picture and rate it.
The spoken word is another powerful tool to impress voters and citizens, and, obviously much more based on the way it is expressed than dependent on the content. On that background the astounding catching-up-campaign of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in Indonesia and the final victory of least gorilla-style politician Joko Widodo are remarkable. Was it the aura of credibility against strongman posturing?

Partyforumseasia would very much appreciate comments and contributions to the leadership enigma in Southeast Asia. It is a region with gentle orang utans, not chest thumping gorillas.