The year oligarchs try to steal democracy from the people
14 February 2014
Endy Bayuni, Senior Editor, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, January 27 2014, 1:06 PM
The real and important battle in this 2014 election year is not between Indonesia’s big political parties or their presidential candidates fighting for power. Below the surface, a quiet war is being waged by Indonesia’s oligarchs trying to steal democracy from the people.
The good news is that the people, whether they are conscious or not about this ongoing war, are putting up a fight to defend their freedoms and rights that they may succeed in stopping the powerful and wealthy elite from usurping the national democratic project that began in 1999. (boldface by PO)
The year 2014 indeed will be a crucial one for Indonesia. It may mark the end of democracy and the beginning of an oligarchic political system commonly found throughout Asia. Or it could give Indonesia a new five-year lease to strengthen the democratic government and culture.
The 2014 elections will be Indonesia’s fourth since the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998, and an occasion for this nation of 250 million people to decide, through a democratic process, who they want as leaders for the next five years. This year’s main political agenda includes the legislative election in April, the presidential race in July and the inauguration of a newly elected president and government in October.
After three elections in 1999, 2004 and 2009 that many considered to be free and fair and gave Indonesia the accolade as the world’s third-largest democracy, the country’s wealthy political dynasties must have figured out a way to beat the system.
They will still play by the rules of the game we call democracy, but they know that the way to power in Indonesia is by controlling, or taking control, of one of the major political parties contesting the elections. The big four parties – Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Democratic Party and the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party – are already spoken for, and they are controlled by some of the nation’s political dynasties who run them in authoritarian fashion.
Barring any major upset, these four will dominate the national legislative polls, which will be contested by 12 political parties. Two or three of these big parties will likely cut deals after the April election to form a coalition to nominate a presidential candidate, bringing along with them a number of smaller parties, including a handful with Islamist agendas. More deals will be cut among the oligarchs after the presidential election.
In the end, everyone will get a share of the power and wealth or access to wealth. It’s a win-win for the oligarchs but a losing proposition for the people and for Indonesia’s democracy.
Most opinion polls have put Golkar and PDI-P neck and neck to win the most seats while Gerindra and the Democratic Party compete for third place. These parties, however, have no clear-cut ideology, unlike the Islamist parties. They campaign for the same populist policies such as anti-corruption, more nationalist economic policies and the promise of greater economic equality.
They are so alike in their centrist platforms that the only way voters can tell them apart is through the different personalities of the people, or the political families, who control them.
• Golkar, which was the political machine of Soeharto for over three decades, is now fully controlled by Aburizal Bakrie, the scion of the family that owns the diversified and wealthy Bakrie Group. Bakrie took control of the party in 2009, thanks largely to a well-funded campaign, and has since turned it into a platform to launch his presidential bid for 2014.
• The Democratic Party is controlled by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who single-handedly turned it into a family venture with him as chairman and son Edhie “Ibas” Baskoro as secretary-general. While the family is not filthy rich, his position as president and head of one of the big parties has given him access to wealth. Yudhoyono helped found the party in 2002 and used it as a vehicle to win the presidency in 2004 and 2009. Yudhoyono cannot run for a third term, and the party is still struggling to come up with a viable presidential candidate four months before the elections. The national convention is not likely to solve its problem. The first lady’s younger brother, Gen. (ret.) Edhie Pramono Wibowo, is strongly favored to win the nomination even though he would be a hard sell to voters.
• Gerindra was founded in 2008 and is financed by Prabowo Subianto and his younger brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo, both of whom have massive fortunes at their disposal. Prabowo, a retired Army lieutenant general, is bidding for the top job in 2014, after losing the 2009 election as running mate to Megawati Soekarnoputri of the PDI-P. He is a frontrunner in the 2014 presidential race, according to most opinion surveys.
• PDI-P became the party of the Sukarno clan headed by Megawati after the end of Soeharto’s rule. The oldest Indonesian political dynasty has seen its political fortunes fall and access to wealth narrow since it was pushed out of power in 2004. The Sukarno clan is not wealthy either, and the party cannot keep counting on the great name of Indonesia’s founding president by being in an opposition party. As of the start of the year, Megawati has yet to decide whether or not she will run for president for a fourth time. Losing to Yudhoyono in 2004 and 2009 apparently has not tampered her ambitions to try her luck again. Most surveys, however, have her trailing behind both Prabowo and Bakrie, meaning that her chances of winning are small.
But PDI-P has Jakarta Governor Joko ”Jokowi” Widodo, who is far more popular than the chairwoman and all surveys indicate that he could help the party return to power and go on to win the presidency if Megawati puts him on the ticket.
The dilemma — and this is something that Megawati is struggling with most — is that nominating Jokowi could spell the end of her control over the party, and with it possibly the end of the Sukarno political dynasty. Megawati has said that she would only announce the name of the PDI-P presidential candidate after the April election.
Golkar, the Democratic Party, Gerindra and the PDI-P were instrumental in making the political system difficult if not impossible for new and smaller players to break into. The law on general elections that they crafted in the House of Representatives set such tough criteria that only 12 political parties passed the muster to contest the polls in April, significantly down from 38 in 2009.
They have also renewed the high barrier for parties to nominate candidates for the presidential race: 25 percent of total legislative votes or 20 percent of House seats. This effectively limits the number of presidential candidates contesting the July election to three just as it did in 2009. In 2004, there were still five presidential candidates.
With only three contestants, the oligarchs decide who can run. Both Bakrie and Prabowo have announced their own candidacy. Yudhoyono is still at a loss and Megawati is even more confused.
While the door to the political system at the national level is virtually shut to newcomers, there is still room for the emergence of smaller political dynasties in the regions. The province of Banten to the west of Jakarta, for example, is now ruled by the family of Ratu Atut Chosiyah, an active member of Golkar. It still is, even as she faces serious corruption charges laid by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
Some of these local dynasties will probably grow big enough to contest the national elections some day. But not just yet. The year 2014 belongs to those who control the four big parties.
The oligarchs are now pouring in money to win votes to reach the presidential threshold, and some like Bakrie are using their media empires to steer votes their way, or to influence the political debate in the country in the run-up to the elections.
Voters in the meantime are being deprived of real choices, more so this year than in the previous three elections.
The limited number of participants in the legislative election and the presidential race means that these major political parties will continue to call the shots even as their top officials are being jailed or investigated for corruption by the KPK. The April election will tell how these embarrassing corruption cases affect the standing of political parties in the eyes of voters.
Fortunately, voting is by secret ballot and voters know that no amount of money, coercion or advertising could influence how they cast their ballot on polling day.
The growth of social media has also provided voters with alternative, and sometimes more credible, news and information than they are getting from the mainstream media, most particularly TV stations that increasingly reflect the political bias of their owners.
The big political parties, now fully controlled by the nation’s wealthy and powerful elites, may have much greater say in the way the political system is run in Indonesia, including particularly in the presidential nomination process, but they don’t necessarily control the outcome.
One possible scenario for the July presidential race would see a contest between the three oligarchs – Aburizal, Prabowo and Megawati. This is a race that pundits say will give Prabowo an edge. It is also an election scenario that will likely see low voter turnout as many people will be voting with their feet because of the lack of real choices.
But another scenario, one that many voters clearly are hoping to see, is for Jokowi to take the place of Megawati in the three-horse race. All surveys say he would win in a landslide amid huge voter turnout.
A relative newcomer to Indonesian politics, Jokowi has won widespread support across the country since winning the Jakarta gubernatorial election in October 2012. With limited economic means and limited experience in government, he has been gaining popularity largely because of his humble appearance that makes him distinct from other politicians. He is still in his early 50s, while the other candidates are well past 60. He is a popular choice not only among young voters but also among older ones craving real democratic choices and a changing of the guard.
Jokowi is the one man who can upset the apple cart and stop the nation’s oligarchs from taking full control of the nation in 2014, and save Indonesia from the hands of the rich and powerful. The bigger question is whether Megawati is prepared to make the personal sacrifice for the greater good of her party and the nation.
All is not lost for Indonesia’s democracy. There is still hope in Jokowi, social media and to some extent the KPK, to prevent Indonesia from turning into an oligarchy in 2014.