President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono risks losing full control of his Democratic Party as former party chairman Anas Urbaningrum’s loyalists still control the votes needed for the party to pass crucial policies, including the appointment of a new chairman.
Since Anas’ decision to step down from the chairmanship on Saturday, the party remains undecided over the timing of the so-called extraordinary congress, a special forum to appoint a new chairman.
A politician within the party, speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the issue, said on Thursday that Yudhoyono was concerned that his desired candidates would lose the chairmanship vote at the congress. “The congress could even pave the ways for Anas’ loyalists to take over the party,” he said.
“Anas still has a deep-rooted influence over party leaders at provincial [DPD] and regency [DPC] levels. These are the people that have votes in the congress,” he said.
The party comprised 33 DPD and 461 DPC leaders, of whom the majority were supportive of Anas, said the politician.
Party official Ulil Abshar Abdalla confirmed the concerns, saying that the political cost of the congress “would be too expensive” for Yudhoyono. “It’s better not to push for the congress in the near future. It will be too risky because we cannot control the votes. Any undesirable person could end up as chairman,” said Ulil. “The congress is the most democratic way to determine a new chairman but under the current circumstances, it would be unwise to hold it.”
Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Thursday, Anas said there was no way for the party to legally appoint a leader other than through a congress.
When asked about the chances that his loyalists would vote against Yudhoyono’s candidates, Anas merely said that “it would not be difficult for them to count the votes and forecast the outcome”.
“But I have urged all members to stay calm and rational. I am positioning myself as their best friend,” said Anas, who is widely known for his ability to speak in a subtly nuanced Javanese style.
Should Anas’ loyalists exercise their power during the congress, Yudhoyono would risk losing the party in a similar way to former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid in 2008 when he lost the National Awakening Party (PKB), which he founded, to his nephew Muhaimin Iskandar, who is now the manpower and transmigration minister.
Member of the party’s board of patrons, Hayono Isman, also shared Ulil’s concern that the congress would only strengthen the position of Anas’ loyalists.
“The party has not yet begun any arrangement for a congress due to various considerations,” he said.
Political observer Arbi Sanit of the University of Indonesia said the party’s elites must start developing a solid network in the regions to persuade Anas’ supporters to jump ship. “If Anas’ supporters decide to revolt and retaliate, the party will sink even deeper,” he said.
Anas’ strength in forging loyalty has been based on his strategy of regularly visiting the regional branches to maintain communications — a strategy not favored by his party rivals who preferred to meet the branch leaders in fancy hotels.
Anas stepped down last week after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named him a suspect for accepting gratuities or making promises related to several projects, including the construction of the Hambalang sports center.
The party would need to have a definitive chairman in order to approve a list of legislative nominees to be submitted to the General Elections Commission (KPU) by April 15, or risk being excluded from the 2014 general election. “We have proposed skipping the congress and have Yudhoyono appointed someone as interim chairman to sign the list of the nominees. This is legal enough to be accepted by the KPU,” said Ulil.
Several names have circulated as Anas’ replacement, including House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie and Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law, Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo.
Political observer Burhanuddin Muhtadi of the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI) argued that an interim chairman would not have enough standing or sufficient legal authority to sign the nominees list. Such a weakness would trigger further infighting within the party.
Burhan also said that aside from Anas’ faction, Yudhoyono should also be worried about Marzuki’s ambitions to lead the party. “Marzuki has enough firepower to tackle Yudhoyono’s candidates. A congress is the most constitutional method to appoint a new chairman. But it is taking so long to hold it because the party’s elites are still trying to find the best compromise,” he said.
“Marzuki does not fit with Yudhoyono who wants to appoint someone from outside the party. Someone that he can trust,” added Burhan.
Rendi A. Witular also contributed to the story.
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