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Pseudo-coalition and the nature of political pragmatism

  • M. Syafi’i Anwar

Cambridge, Massachusetts | Tue, April 17 2012 | 09:00 am

Following the political dispute among the elites of political parties grouped in the Joint Secreariat of Coalitian, particularly between the Democratic Party and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), one might ask what is the relevance of the dispute for people’s interests?

Nothing. It is only for the sake of the parties’ interests and it does not resolve the problems people are facing in their daily lives. People will obtain no advantage from the discord, which instead demonstrates malicious political pragmatism. Consequently, it reminds us of the old political mantra: ”In politics, there are no permanent friends or foes, but interests.”

Unfortunately, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as chair of the coalition, has not made any hints toward resolving the dispute. His remarks at the Democratic Party headquarters, which were recently leaked, speak volumes on his disappointment with the maneuverings of certain political parties. However, he prefers to remain silent and wait for people’s responses to the dispute.

It seems that he is facing a dilemma in making a firm decision regarding the future of the coalition, calculating the costs and benefits derived from either sidelining or expelling the PKS from the coalition. In his analysis, political observer Ari Dwipayana from Gadjah Mada University says the President has been taken hostage by the PKS and has paid for his decision.

Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha told the media that President Yudhoyono would not speak about the future of the PKS. He quoted Article 5 from the coalition secretariat’s code of conduct that any party that opposes a consensual regulation can withdraw from the coalition. If they do not quit the coalition, their membership in the coalition will be ended involuntarily. “So, there is no obligation for the President to speak about the PKS,” he insisted as quoted by kompas.com (April 9, 2012).

Reading Julian’s statement, it seems that President Yudhoyono hopes the PKS will volunteer to leave without waiting for his decision. He calculates that if he expels the PKS, his image will be at risk.

Yudi Latief of Paramadina University, Jakarta, correctly argued that the President would safely complete his presidency until 2014. On the other hand, the PKS could be considered a “hero” for its courage in opposing the government’s unpopular policies. The PKS is too smart to dance to the president’s drum, asserting that it will remain within the coalition as a critical member.

Furthermore, the PKS’ opposition toward the government’s plan to raise fuel prices could be seen as part of its strategy to regain public trust and win a significant number of votes in the 2014 general election. The PKS needs to do so, as surveys released recently by several leading pollsters revealed the Islamic party’s declining popularity.

The Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), for instance, predicted that the PKS would gain approximately 3.7 percent. It would not be able to compete with secular-nationalist parties such as the Democratic Party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Golkar or Gerindra. Hence, one should remember that the PKS has loyal and dedicated constituents, and it is a well-
organized party. It would be possible, therefore, for the PKS to mobilize public support to gain a higher vote.

Approaching the 2014 general election, members of the coalition are susceptible to political pragmatism, despite their claims to struggle for people’s right to a better economy, politics and social lives. Nevertheless, the problem is basically rooted in the coalition itself: A form of “pseudo-coalition”, which is prone to the rise of political maneuvering and pragmatism.

Meanwhile, it would be fair to argue that the democrats benefit from the dispute within the coalition as well as the Golkar Party. It has now come back to the central political stage again. We are now watching the Democratic Party elites regaining momentum in perking up their party after the wide media coverage of the involvement of its elites in corruption cases.

As the nation approaches the 2014 general election, there is no guarantee that such maneuverings would not be repeated. That’s the predicament of political pragmatism in this country. Accordingly, it is hard to expect the rise of great leaders and statesmen from any political party. In this regard, the leadership of President Yudhoyono in the years ahead will be crucial.

As chair of the coalition, he should display firm and decisive leadership during the remainder of his term. He needs to also realize that he cannot please everybody. The longer he takes to make decisive policy, the worse the political consequences will be for him in the months ahead. He should build a better legacy for the nation, and not be remembered as a lame-duck president. Only time will tell.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


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