Opinion

Wanted: Democratic Party
chief

Seeking a likely replacement for ousted Democratic Party chairman Anas Urbaningrum, who stepped down after being charged in the Hambalang graft case, is a top priority for the party. Many party politicians do not want the position left empty for too long, concerned as they are about the need to prepare for the 2014 election.

A great number of candidates are emerging, including House of Representatives’ Speaker Marzuki Alie, lawmaker Ruhut Sitompul and current Army chief of staff Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo, who is also President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law.

Whoever is elected to become the party’s new chief, he must focus on cleaning and restructuring the party to restore an image tainted by numerous graft scandals. The new chairman, therefore, should be from within the party; such a move would show the party’s clear-cut mechanism of political regeneration. There should be no non-member candidates because the Democratic Party was built as a party of membership; outsiders cannot just barge in. This is about ethics marked by prioritizing the members over people who happen to be outsiders.

Indeed, based on his decision to take over the party leadership following the naming of Anas as a graft suspect, it is likely that Yudhoyono will favor his brother-in-law to become chairman. When it comes to trust, it is difficult to remain professional. Sometimes trust causes someone to choose based on preference rather than rational thought.

Putting one of his family members into the party leadership makes sense since Yudhoyono still intends to retain a firm grip on the Democratic Party. Such an approach, however, could have perilous consequences since the Democrats would be considered anti-reform-minded. Judging from the electorate’s perspective, the Democratic Party may eventually be shunned by young voters and professionals who want to see fundamental changes in various sectors. The party could survive if Yudhoyono cleaned it up and then allow the party members to choose their own chief rather than planting oligarchic seeds.

However, all the party executives and members need to bear in mind the bigger picture. Any efforts to solidify the party are not to be compromised. Yudhoyono should announce the candidates and allow the party to familiarize themselves with them before making a choice. Despite the possible tension between Anas’ proponents and Yudhoyono’s supporters, a new chairman chosen from among existing Democrats would be much more representative and legitimate. The friction between the two sides could be reconciled if the party were to proceed based on and bolstered by collective leadership instead of relying upon one person. Along with party unity, the party’s new leader would not be allowed to run for president in the 2014 election due to its transitional nature.

Furthermore, strong emphasis on collective and transitional leadership is instrumental in pushing the Democrats to become far-sighted statesmen. The electorate views the Democratic Party as suffering from a drought of statesmen but a flood of politicians. While statesmen busy themselves with promoting wide-scale solidarity on a regular basis, politicians limit their political practices to mere power retention, regardless of place and time.

It is of paramount importance that the new party chairman be a rallying figure. It is necessary since what is taking place in the Democratic Party is not simply ordinary political fallout but a potentially irreversible political rift, characterized by some local party leaders abandoning ship and leaving the party. Nevertheless, speculation that Anas’ imminent exit would pave the way for a mass exodus has proved to be largely unfounded, as Anas’ “loyalists” still remain in the party. However, political tension within the party has increased with Yudhoyono supporters demanding that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) immediately detain Anas in relation to the recent graft allegations.

As a rallying figure, the new chairman needs to be supported by adequate political infrastructure. He needs to consolidate the party’s central board as a political organ capable of managing the daily affairs of the party on the one side and strengthen the local leaders’ support base on the other. The party’s new chief is supposed to ensure that no members interfere with or become affected by the legal case beleaguering Anas. To put it simply, the party’s supporters and members should form organized political networks under the new chairmanship.

The new chairman will also encounter an equally substantive need; namely, the need to formulate a common agenda taking into account common platforms and points of dispute among the party’s executives and members. Those claiming to be tenacious fighters for democracy in the party actually still have disparate agendas on substantive issues and tend to approach challenges with shallow thinking. As a result, mutual support among the party’s politicians has been substituted by endless political recrimination among its leaders and members.

The writer is a lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University, Padang.

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