President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is facing some tough choices after the pro-government parties bitterly lost the House vote on the Bank Century case.
The defeat has put him in a difficult position as to whether to sacrifice reform icons, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and Vice President Boediono, or retain the two but confront an anticipated severe political backlash from the parliamentary wolves.
Letting Boediono and Sri Mulyani go to appease political foes would ruin the government’s reputation in the eyes of international investors keen to see bureaucratic reform taking firm root here, but defending the two would put further distance between him and dissenting coalition partners like Golkar and the PKS that could spark instability in the Cabinet during the course of his tenure.
To make matters worse, SBY has little room to maneuver as, this time, his bargaining position is weak. Coming out as a winner in the last presidential election with a landslide vote that allowed him to have a strong grip on the parliament, his authority and charisma have been severely reduced after the pro-government parties lost in the fateful voting last Wednesday.
SBY has at least three options to deal with the situation.
The first would be to order the resignation of Sri Mulyani and let political foes, through the DPR, proceed with the impeachment of Boediono. The success in getting rid of Sri Mulyani and Boediono, the main targets of the dissenting coalition partners, would rectify strained relationship between SBY and those partners and allow them to regroup for more a solid political partnership in the future.
Technically, letting Sri Mulyani go is easy as she has no political backing and SBY has the power to issue a presidential decree to fire the minister. SBY knows that Sri Mulyani would not fight back when he asked her to resign because the President would offer her concessions that she could not resist, namely to block the prospect of a corruption investigation into her alleged abuse of authority in the Bank Century saga.
But letting Boediono go would be a bit more complicated, not least because his removal from vice presidential office needs to secure approval from the Constitutional Court, and later requires approval from at least three-quarters of the members of the People’s Consultative Assembly ( MPR ) to allow Boediono to be impeached.
However, such a scenario is highly unlikely though, because, in his speech made less than 24 hours after the House vote, SBY reiterated that Boediono and Sri Mulyani were correct in bailing out Bank Century and that the DPR recommendations could not be used as evidence in court. It means that SBY did not approve of the two being pursued by legal enforcers in the case on the grounds that they did no wrong.
The second scenario is that SBY could retain Sri Mulyani and Boediono, and play hard ball with dissenting coalition partners on the grounds that they had betrayed SBY and Democratic Party in the House vote and therefore, it would be hard for the SBY camp to trust them any more.
In this scenario, he would fire all the ministers from the dissenting coalition partners such as the Golkar Party, the Prosperous Justice Party ( PKS ) and the United Development Party ( PPP ), and retain others from the loyal coalition partners, such as from the National Mandate Party ( PAN ).
The move could be expected to draw a furious response from the dissenting coalition partners and might end up in political turmoil, considering that the nonconforming blocks that consist of, among others, Golkar, the PKS and the PPP have significant presence in the House and have a huge following on the streets.
If that scenario occurs SBY would need support from loyal coalition partners like the PAN, the Democratic Party and the international community who have expressed concern that the anti-reform politicians have taken President SBY and his pro-reform agenda hostage. He would also need support from other parties to balance the power of the dissenting coalition partners and strengthen his position.
He might lobby the powerful opposition party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle ( PDI-P ), through the Taufik Kiemas link that has been cooperative with SBY and his Democratic Party after the latter helped Taufik secures a position as chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly ( MPR ). If it is realized, the SBY camp would have enough power to outperform the dissenting coalition block in parliament that consists of Golkar, the PPP, the PKS, Gerindra and Hanura.
The third scenario would be a mix of both retaining Sri Mulyani and Boediono and rearranging the coalition platform. In this scenario, in keeping the two, SBY might offer more concessions to the dissenting coalition partners as they now have a stronger bargaining card.
And if it does happen, it could benefit SBY by reducing opposition and stabilizing the government, a modality for SBY to pursue development programs for the rest of his tenure. However, SBY should be on constant alert as the Bank Century vote experience has taught him that there are no true friends in politics, only interests.
The scenario is unlikely, though, on the grounds that Sri Mulyani and Boediono have been the main targets of the dissenting group, and they will only stop pursuing the Bank Century case after they see the two discharged from the government.
The author is a staff writer with The Jakarta Post.