The Jakarta Post
The Nasdem Party is the only new entry into a group of political parties eligible to contest the 2014 general election. Chairman Surya Paloh recently talked with The Jakarta Post's Hasyim Widhiarto and Imanuddin Razak about the party's vision and target in this year's election.
Question: What does Nasdem want to achieve?
Answer: Nasdem was established not just to participate in the general election or pass [the then] electoral threshold of 3.5 percent but to offer its idea of Indonesian restoration, to once again become a confident nation that objectively acknowledges its strengths and weaknesses.
To restore means to empower all supporting aspects that build our nation, including local wisdoms, cultures, the spirit of working together and the Pancasila state ideology, which all citizens must respect. We have forgotten about the existence of these aspects and instead are looking for a new identity as a nation. We are trying to emulate Western countries like the US, even though our DNA is of an Eastern nation.
Are you saying that the post-Soeharto reform movement has failed to make Indonesia a better country?
Exactly. In no way will I hesitate to say that the reform movement has failed since we have only seen minor achievements. Reform is meant to rebuild the nation's morale, but it has in fact damaged it even more.
In my view, our democracy will not benefit the country unless we have a strong government that is led by a strong leader. We also need people to participate, fulfill their obligations as citizens. Those two things are the essence of democracy.
How can Nasdem make changes to the corrupt environment at the House of Representatives?
It is clearly impossible for Nasdem to initiate changes alone in the House. I, however, believe such changes can be made if all citizens can work together. So, what we need to do now is build public awareness [on the problem]. The struggle to make changes [in the House] is not easy and will need more than just a conventional strategy. We need a leader who can think out of the box and who at the same time is ready to be unpopular.
How would you describe your ideal party coalition partners?
We definitely need support from many political parties. I hope we can cooperate with [parties] that have the same level of objectivity and sensibility in seeing the problems of the nation.
Looking at recent surveys, are you happy with the performance of your party?
The results of many recent surveys have made us proud. We also respect those surveys that predicted our failure to surpass the electoral threshold, while some others said that we could be the dark horse in the upcoming election, for example with 6.9 percent support.
Despite such promising survey results, we have been working to develop the party structure. Our IT system has also been providing real-time data on the number of our supporters nationwide. According to the system, we currently have more than 15 million people registered as Nasdem members.
Does membership guarantee their support for Nasdem on election day?
Of course it doesn't, but at least we have a specific [performance] indicator. We have no problem if some of the 15 million people decide not to vote for Nasdem on election day. Other political parties might ask: Why doesn't Nasdem just pay subdistrict heads or local vote endorsers to [mobilize voters]? We, however, find it much more important to build supporting infrastructure for the party.
How many House seats are you targeting to clinch?
We're optimistic that we can win at least one seat from all the 77 electoral districts nationwide.
Can you speak of your legislative candidate line-up?
We have 22,000 legislative candidates competing at the local, regional and national levels, 75 percent of which are younger than 45. Some 75 percent are also first-timers in politics with various backgrounds. So, many of them are fresh-from-the-oven politicians. The remaining 25 percent, meanwhile, used to join or run as legislative candidates for other political parties.
How can you guarantee that your members will preserve their idealism once they join the House?
Once again, our main goal is to restore the nation's pride and dignity. This can't be achieved if we don't have morals and a support system that respects such values. We also need leaders and political elites who can provide good examples [for society]. Without the existence of exemplary figures, law enforcement would be just rhetoric.
Do you want to be President?
I'm 62-years-old now. I have spent 45 years in politics, the first 43 years with the Golkar Party. Many people have said that if you want to build your country, you have to become President, but I believe this is a wrong thought.
This also answers why Nasdem respects the principles of decency and propriety. We want to see first how society responds to the existence of the party. If Nasdem manages to finish first in the upcoming election, why don't we endorse our own [presidential] candidate? If we finish second or third, we then have to choose a candidate considered the best for the country. However, if we come in fourth [or lower], it would be better for us not to endorse [a presidential candidate].
Can you tell us about Nasdem's view on energy security issues, particularly the fuel subsidy policy?
It's impossible for us to keep the fuel subsidy policy. That is not healthy. But we also cannot just scrap it in the blink of an eye. We need, let's say a year, as a consolidation time, in which we educate our citizens about this plan. What will they get if the government cuts the subsidy? The country's leader would also need to be prepared to become unpopular [because of the policy]. The government, however, also needs to continuously provide subsidies to agriculture and food sectors, for example a fertilizer subsidy.
What's your view about the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) global trade reform deal?
Honestly, I am hurt by the deal. What was the point of hosting the conference in our country if our leaders failed to protect national interests? Just look at India. The country strongly objected to the deal even though it has much better industry than Indonesia. We should've taken the same position as India considering our relatively low competitiveness with many foreign countries. We currently have no sovereignty over our energy, agriculture and maritime resources, and will be largely dependent on imports. It reminds me of former president Sukarno's Trisakti [three powers] speech, which highlighted that Indonesia must be a country that is politically sovereign, economically independent and have strong cultural identity.
Your party's vision of nationalism seems very close to that of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)?
[Laughing]. Nationalism has become the soul of our party. It is the power that a country must have. The US has become a superpower with the power of nationalism, and so has China. Indonesia will become nothing if the country loses nationalism as its foundation.
You are the owner of Media Group; does that fact help you boost your party popularity?
I sometimes consider my ownership of Metro TV as a handicap. [Other media's] attempts to explore my thoughts could somehow turn into resistance once they see me as a media owner and their competitor. If I didn't own Metro TV, I believe news coverage about me would surpass that of 'Jokowi' [Jakarta Governor and PDI-P politician Joko Widodo]. There's actually a [coverage] gap despite the fact that I've been a media person for the past 30 years.