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Jakarta Post

Tycoons spin the wheel of RI'€™s high-cost politics

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Wed, February 19, 2014   /  10:26 am

Entrepreneurs joining political parties '€” as active members '€” have become a new trend in the country'€™s political arena, each of them with his own motive. The Jakarta Post'€™s Hasyim Widhiarto provides a deeper look at the issue, while Hans David Tampubolon and Khoirul Amin provide sidebars to support the main story.

The main meeting hall at the National Awakening Party (PKB) headquarters in Central Jakarta was only half-full on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 12, but that did not stop PKB chairman Muhaimin Iskandar from enthusiastically introducing his new deputy, businessman Rusdi Kirana, to more than a dozen of the party'€™s central board members.

'€œAs you all know, Pak Rusdi is a businessman who takes no more than two hours'€™ sleep a day. That'€™s why he is so rich,'€ Muhaimin said in an attempt at an icebreaker, successfully turning the silence in the closed-door meeting into laughter.

Rusdi, the cofounder and chief executive of the nation'€™s largest commercial airline, Lion Air, Muhaimin continued, would later be in charge of the party'€™s political communication strategy, as well as helping him and another PKB deputy, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, deal with the party'€™s internal and external affairs.

With Rusdi, one of the country'€™s richest tycoons, joining the PKB, Muhaimin was upbeat about the Muslim-based party'€™s prospects to revive its former glory in the April 9 legislative election.

'€œWe have to finish [in the election] at least as runner-up,'€ Muhaimin told the audience, most of whom were PKB lawmaker candidates.

Established in 1998 at the start of the reform era, the PKB finished third in the 1999 general election, behind the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party, after securing 12.6 percent of the vote, making it the country'€™s largest Islamic party. With support from other Islamic parties, the PKB also successfully endorsed party cofounder and prominent Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) cleric Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur, in securing the presidential seat in the same year.

The PKB came in third again in the 2004 general election after clinching 10.6 percent of the vote, but dropped to seventh place five years later with only 4.9 percent of votes, mainly due to a long-standing conflict over the party'€™s leadership between Muhaimin and Gus Dur.

A month before Rusdi'€™s inauguration, Muhaimin was pessimistic about PKB'€™s future. He said many Islamic parties, including the PKB, had been unable to compete with larger parties as they had no money to run massive political advertising campaigns ahead of this year'€™s elections.

Then came Rusdi. It is no coincidence, therefore, that since Rusdi'€™s entree into the PKB, the party'€™s political ads have regularly appeared on national TV with, of course, Rusdi'€™s face all over them.

Rusdi refused to comment on whether a financial motive was behind the PKB'€™s decision to recruit him. The Chinese-Indonesian businessman said, however, that he had decided to enter politics because he wanted to preserve the equal business opportunities that he had enjoyed during the post-reform era.

'€œIn the New Order era, businesspeople'€™s [success] was greatly determined by receiving the authorities'€™ blessing. The post-reform era, meanwhile, has provided all citizens including poor people '€” as I was '€” who have no access to the authorities, with equal opportunities to run a business,'€ he said.

Rusdi, however, is not the only businessman-turned-politician who has sponsored and engineered the campaigns of Indonesian political parties in the past several years.

Golkar chairman and businessman Aburizal Bakrie, whose family controls publicly listed PT Visi Media Asia (VIVA), a parent company for TV One, ANTV and news portal viva.co.id, has been endorsed by his party to run in the upcoming presidential election. Meanwhile, Surya Paloh, the owner of the Media Group, which controls, among other things, Metro TV and the Media Indonesia daily, currently chairs the National Democratic (Nasdem) Party, and there are expectations that he will become a presidential candidate if his party manages to score big in its first legislative election.

Media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo, the president of the MNC Group, which controls RCTI, Global TV, MNC TV and Seputar Indonesia, has added to the political rivalry after being endorsed by the People'€™s Conscience (Hanura) Party as the running mate for Hanura'€™s chief patron and presidential candidate, Gen. (ret) Wiranto.

Having cofounded the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party in 2008, businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo now serves as a member of the party'€™s advisory board, supporting his elder brother and the party'€™s chief patron, Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, and organizing his presidential campaigns for the past few years.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which many recent surveys have predicted will win the upcoming legislative election, also counts several businesspeople, like Wiryanti Sukamdani of the Sahid Group, among its membership. Meanwhile, the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) is continuing to rely solely on long-time party supporters, such as property businessman and Public Housing Minister Djan Faridz, due to its relatively poor performance in the past three legislative elections.

Like Rusdi, a number of businesspeople have claimed that their involvement in politics is primarily driven by a social rather than economic motive.

Wiryanti, who served as a PDI-P lawmaker between 2004 and 2009, said she entered politics so that she and her family could '€œcontribute to a bigger society'€.

'€œBusiness and politics have always been in our blood. My father [Sukamdani Sahid Gitosardjono, Sahid Group founder] was a former lawmaker who contributed to the Kadin [Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry] Law back in the 1980s, while I helped with the drawing up of the Tourism Law. Our presence in politics has proven that businesspeople can be government partners in improving the national economy,'€ she told The Jakarta Post.

The tycoon-politicians, who have been eagerly utilizing their media companies as campaign outlets, have claimed that their political endeavors will not be undertaken at the cost of their businesses.

In a recent interview with the Post, Aburizal said he had no problem with political parties other than Golkar running political ads on his TV stations.

'€œIf I prevent them from doing so, what would I gain? My children will be angry. [Our company] will get no money and, instead, other [TV stations] will get their business,'€ he said.

Aburizal'€™s eldest son, Anindya Novyan Bakrie, is VIVA'€™s president commissioner, while his youngest son, Anindra Ardiansyah Bakrie, serves as one of VIVA'€™s directors.

MNC corporate secretary and Hanura'€™s election campaign team (Bapilu) deputy manager, Arya Sinulingga, echoed Aburizal'€™s statement, saying that the company had also charged Wiranto and Hary for running their political ads in the company'€™s media outlets.

'€œAs a publicly listed company, we have many investors who, of course, will be angry if we fail to make money from ads, including those belonging to Win-HT,'€ Arya said. '€œAt the end of the day, business is business.'€

Metro TV'€™s chief editor, Putra Nababan, declined the Post'€™s interview request, but its news director, Suryopratomo, said in a 2011 interview that Surya had never intervened in the newsroom'€™s decision making or requested journalists to report on his party'€™s activities.

Massive advertising campaigns, however, are not the only factor that can help boost the popularity of political parties. A public opinion survey released earlier this month by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) found that if an election were to take place now, Golkar and the PDI-P '€” one of whose members is Jakarta Governor Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo who has been widely tipped as the strongest presidential contender '€” would finish first and second, respectively, with 18.3 and 18.2 percent of the vote. Gerindra, which has been running extensive TV ads over the past several months, would, according to the survey, come in third with 8.7 percent.

The survey also predicted that Hanura, despite Wiranto and Hary'€™s frequent TV appearances, would only manage to garner 4 percent of the vote, ahead of Nasdem on 2 percent. Others, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono'€™s Democratic Party (PD), would also garner less than 5 percent of the vote, according to the survey, which was held in January and involved 1,200 respondents from all the country'€™s 34 provinces.

The Presidential Election Law requires all political parties to obtain a minimum 25 percent of the popular vote or 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives to be entitled to nominate a presidential candidate.

Politicians, however, understand that money alone will not be enough to pave their way to power.

Speaking at Gerindra'€™s sixth anniversary reception earlier this month, Hashim said the party'€™s central board would cut its campaign logistics support to lawmaker candidates who did not go all out to introduce the party'€™s programs at the grassroots level.

'€œLawmaker candidates who are lazy, performing poorly or spending all their time behind a desk, will no longer be supported by the party'€™s central board,'€ he said.

Earlier, during his opening remarks at the reception, Hashim had shared his disappointment about the party'€™s performance, saying the party'€™s central board could only identify around 250 Gerindra lawmaker candidates nationwide, out of the total 558, who regularly made direct contact with potential voters ahead of the April 9 legislative election.

'€œThis is not good. We want to hear and see reports that all of the 558 candidates are paying visits to people at the grass roots,'€ Hashim said.

Gerindra managed to secure 4.6 percent of the vote in the 2009 general election, making it the eighth-largest party faction in the House.

According to the General Elections Commission (KPU), Gerindra had reported the highest level of campaign funding with Rp 184.6 billion ($15.58 million). The party claimed all the funds were collected from legislative candidates nationwide.

Bearing in mind the amount of money businesspeople must spend if they want to enter the political arena, PPP politician and Bapilu manager Fernita Darwis acknowledged that they inevitably wanted something in return.

'€œFor businesspeople, going into politics not only helps them expand their business networks but it also helps them develop long-term investments,'€ said Fernita, who also manages a construction business alongside her political work.

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) political analyst Ikrar Nusa Bhakti said the presence of businesspeople in Indonesian politics would not harm democracy if their wish to dedicate their lives for the nation using their wealth was sincere.

'€œProblems arise, however, if they choose to enter politics to protect their business interests using political channels,'€ he said.

'€” Bagus BT Saragih and Hans David Tampubolon contributed to this article.

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