Tuesday August 28, 2012
Walking a tightrope
By KARIM RASLAN
While Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is still popular, five recent events seem to suggest that he is losing grip on authority.
MALAYSIANS have become so accustomed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s stately presence that it’s hard for many of us to conceive of anyone else occupying the Istana Negara.
Nonetheless, in just under two years’ time, Indonesia will have voted for a new legislature (April, 2014) and a new President (July, 2014) – deepening and strengthening the Republic’s democratic foundations.
And like South Korea, it’s economy is continuing to grow despite the personal troubles of their administrators.
Still, five recent events seem to suggest that the avuncular former general – whilst still popular – is losing his grip on authority.
First: The naming of prominent businesswoman Siti Hartati Murdaya as a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).
Hartati has been accused of bribing an official in Buol to obtain land concessions for her palm oil company in Central Sulawesi.
Officials indicate that she may soon be arrested.
Hartati’s indictment has political ramifications as she’s widely seen as close to Yudhoyono. Indeed, Hartati was an early and active backer of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party.
She was also a member of the Democratic Party’s advisory board and a member of the highly influential National Economic Committee (KEN). Last year, Globe Asia magazine named her as the sixth most influential woman in Indonesia.
Hartati has denied the charges against her and resigned from her various posts. Still, the allegations spell more trouble for Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, which has been constantly rocked by allegations of corruption against its senior leaders – most notably Anas Urbaningrum, the party leader.
Second: The jaw-dropping interview given to Metro TV by the former KPK boss Antasari Azhar on Aug 9.
Antasari, who is in prison for a murder for hire, claims he attended an October, 2008 meeting with Yudhoyono over the controversial Bank Century bailout.
The troubled Bank Century’s rescue by the Indonesian govern- ment was controversial over its size (RM2.21bil or Rupiah 6.76tril) and allegations that these monies were misused.
The meeting was also apparently attended by then Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Bank Indonesia Governor (now vice-president) Boediono and other senior officials.
This directly contradicts Yudhoyono’s claim that he knew nothing of the negative implications of the bailout, and the palace has been quick to deny Antasari’s allegations.
Third: The surprise performance of the PDI-P-backed mayor of Solo, Joko Widodo, in the first round of the Jakarta gubernatorial election in July suggests that people – at least in the capital – are open to the idea of change.
It will be a crucial test for Yudhoyono to hold the all-important capital by keeping his coalition behind the Democratic Party’s incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, during the second round of voting on Sept 20.
The bitterness of the current run-off campaign, with allegations of smear campaigns and personal, ethnic-religious attacks against Joko and his Chinese Indonesian running mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama being traded, show how crucial Jakarta has become in Indonesia’s political calculations.
Fourth: Aug 1 saw Gerinda leader Prabowo Subianto give a lecture in Singapore at the invitation of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies. This was then followed by a high-profile meeting with the city-state’s premier Lee Hsien Loong the next day. The visit shows that Indonesia’s neighbours are also watching the transition closely. One must ask: “Could a trip by Prabowo to the United States also be in the offing?”
Finally, the recently-announced National Budget in which the President appeared to have given up the battle to withdraw crucial subsidies – including plans to spend up to RM89.9bil (Rupiah 274.7tril) for energy subsidies and RM5.6bil (17.2tril Rupiah) to subsidise food.
The decision suggests that maintaining the administration’s popularity is of greater importance than developmental goals.
Could it be that Yudhoyono has become a lame duck?
Having said that, no one should underestimate his ability to revive the Democratic Party’s fortunes. Indeed, yesterday’s golden boy is today’s outcast, and today’s hero could be tomorrow’s villain.
So we have a government with eroding authority, looming elections, as well as widespread dissatisfaction and innuendo on the ground.