Can Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono save the beleaguered Democratic Party? The question follows Yudhoyono’s takeover of power from embattled party chairman Anas Urbaningrum. Under the pretext of weeding out corrupt members, Yudhoyono has taken a tough measure considered undemocratic.
The move to save the Democratic Party amounts to the centralization of power in the hands of Yudhoyono, the party’s co-founder and chief patron. This reminds us of the so-called Mataraman style of political settlement.
Yudhoyono is acting like the old kings of the Javanese kingdom of Mataram, who used force to ensure that everyone heeded their words. Anas is playing his part as a defiant prince.
What is happening to the ruling party contradicts the principle of democracy, especially when it comes to the influential role of the board of patrons and the general assembly, both of which are headed by Yudhoyono.
What is the benefit of the institutions on the party’s quality of democracy? Almost nothing. The institutions, which oversee the party executives, were formed only to keep Yudhoyono’s political clout over the party.
In fact, Yudhoyono was a co-founder and remains a central figure of the Democratic Party. But, under the modern paradigm, he is not the owner of the party. While Yudhoyono can bind the party into a solid organization, he must navigate it in a democratic way.
That’s one thing. The other thing is that Yudhoyono’s position as President has come under the spotlight. By reining in the party he risks degrading his own reputation into that of a partisan politician, rather than a statesman. Although the president of Indonesia must be nominated by a political party or coalition of parties; ethically, he or she must keep a clear distance from political parties.
It is not appropriate for Yudhoyono to take care of his party in such a heavy handed way. While he has not broken any law, it would very much make sense if people outside the Democratic Party felt discriminated against.
Now the public has witnessed Yudhoyono’s model for political settlements. It is close to the militaristic style of governance, which can work effectively if there is an absence of resistance. Stability is pushed down from the top.
The rescue measures taken by Yudhoyono, however, do not automatically guarantee a bright future for the party. Moreover, if anti-Anas sentiment is rife within the party, Yudhoyono will have wasted a vast amount of political capital.
The model will be rendered ineffective if Yudhoyono faces fierce resistance from disappointed party members. Likewise, this political solution will be doomed to failure if the public does not respond to it positively. Please keep in mind that the Yudhoyono administration is in the final year of office and extraordinary accomplishments can hardly be found.
The decline of the Democratic Party’s electability has occurred not only because of its members’ involvement in various corruption cases, but also due to psychological factors as Yudhoyono enters the end of his term.
With regard to Anas, Yudhoyono has to handle the issue with extra care because the policies that he has initiated have fueled public criticism. The impression that Anas has been systematically sidelined will disadvantage Yudhoyono as a symbol of democracy. The way he has treated Anas resembles the “abuse” against him in 2004 that ironically helped his political career skyrocket.
Now Anas is being persecuted politically, but no one knows if his political career will rise in the future.
Although frequently named in the Hambalang graft scandal, Anas has not, at least until today, been named a suspect. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) will certainly address the case very carefully, not only because it deals with the Democratic Party elites, but also because of possible political intervention and pressures. For the sake of its integrity, the commission needs support from all parties, including the Democrats, to act independently rather than serving the interests of a certain political force.
The commission must be given freedom to investigate all graft cases, including the high-profile Bank Century bailout.
Yudhoyono has claimed that his party fights corruption and that the public needs consistency between words and actions. The public will only trust him if he is open and responsive to the graft allegations targeting his party, inner circle and family. The President is not above the law anyway and has to set a good example of compliance with the law.
The ongoing crisis plaguing the ruling Democratic Party only shows that we lack a strong modern political party that has institutionalized democracy. Rather than displaying the characteristics of a modern party, the Democratic Party under Yudhoyono is no more than traditional, patronage parties the country has inherited from the past.
The writer lectures for the social and political sciences department of the National University of Jakarta.