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Jakarta Post

Berkarya infighting narrows space for opposition in Indonesia's politics

  • Margareth S. Aritonang

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, August 8, 2020   /   03:07 pm
Berkarya infighting narrows space for opposition in Indonesia's politics Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chairman Sohibul Iman (left) shakes hands with former Berkarya Party chairman Hutomo Mandala Putra, after their meeting at the PKS headquarters in Jakarta in 2019. (Antara Foto /Sigid Kurniawan)

One of Indonesia’s newest political parties has emerged from an internal leadership struggle with a clear victor: a supporter of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. The realignment is the latest in a series political switches in support of the government.

Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra, the youngest son of former president Soeharto, has lost control of the Berkarya Party, the political party that he established in 2016. His challenger, Muchdi Purwoprandjono, a former State Intelligence Agency (BIN) deputy chief and a former commander of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus), has secured the government’s support for his leadership.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry, which has the authority to authorize leaders of the country’s political parties, granted Muchdi control of the Berkarya Party following an internal power struggle with Tommy over their different stances toward President Jokowi’s leadership. Unlike Tommy, who has been an outspoken critic of many of Jokowi’s policies, Muchdi has been a Jokowi supporter since his first term. Muchdi’s victory in the internal struggle has brought additional support to Jokowi’s government.

Infighting within the country’s political parties has traditionally led to the formation of new parties by disgruntled or outcast politicians. Some parties in the House of Representatives, such as the Gerindra Party and the NasDem Party, were the result of such power struggles within the Golkar Party.

The recent establishment of the Gelora Party fits this pattern. The party was founded by former members of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) who were excluded from positions of authority by the current leadership. The exodus included Fahri Hamzah who was a staunch critic of Jokowi’s government in his role as House deputy speaker from 2014 to 2019.

Although the recently established Gelora Party has yet to solidify its political stance, political scientists believe the party is unlikely to join the opposition camp. Leaders of the party met Jokowi at the Presidential Palace soon after they obtained official authorization for the party’s establishment.

Indonesia’s political system is not generally supportive of a strong opposition, experts have noted. Even if Tommy creates a new party in his defeat, it would be unlikely to develop into a genuine check on the government or represent public interests.

The Jokowi administration has mustered more extensive support for his leadership, reducing critics of the government within the legislature. But there may be reasons for this coalition that are beyond the president himself.

Political scientists have noted that the country’s political climate requires parties to be part of the ruling coalition for survival. A lack of financial resources has driven parties in the House to submit to the ruling parties instead of criticizing the government on behalf of the public.

“To be part of the government is like obtaining an ATM card for the party’s survival,” analyst Firman Noor from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) told The Jakarta Post recently. “Securing financial resources is crucial because of the high cost of politics in Indonesia.”

Firman said a lack of independent financial resources had caused many political parties to become instruments of the ruling power. The political climate, he said, also nurtured infighting within parties because control over parties led to access to resources held by a small number of oligarchs.

In a separate interview, National University (Unas) lecturer, Andi Achdian, referred to the trend of “financier-centered management” within almost all political parties in Indonesia as a result of the lack of genuine aspiration for social change in a post-Soeharto Indonesia.

“This is because political parties mostly get established by a top-down processes instead of being inspired by bottom-up movements,” Achdian said. “In the past, for example, we had a political party that brought together workers who fought for their rights.”

Achdian did not specify which party that was.

The now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) had a strong following among workers and rural populations.

Achdian said the absence of “aspiration for social change” in political parties contributed to the lack of distinctive party ideologies and allowed politicians to shift membership easily from one party to another.

“Political parties are merely a vehicle to fulfil personal interests,” he said.

The need to maintain access to resources has preserved the current political system by making it difficult for new parties to enter the legislature, and the system allows those in power to check the rise of new entrants.

The parties in the House of Representatives have proposed a higher threshold of national votes for eligibility for representation in the legislature.

Lawmakers are considering increasing the threshold for House representation to between 5 and 7 percent of the vote ahead of the 2024 elections. In the 2019 elections, the political parties in the House – mostly supporters of Jokowi’s ruling coalition – agreed to increase the threshold to 4 percent which resulted in one of the coalition’s members, the Hanura Party, getting expelled from the House after the election.

The high electoral threshold also prevented the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a new party championed by many young urban middle-class voters, from being awarded seats in the House because the party garnered only 2 percent of the national vote. The PSI has been known as a staunch supporter of Jokowi administration.

There are currently nine parties with seats in the House. The majority of them are members of the ruling coalition. These include the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Golkar Party, the Gerindra Party, the NasDem Party and two Islam-based parties: the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP).

The remaining three parties – the Democratic Party, PKS and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – are, on paper, in opposition to Jokowi’s government. However, in practice some of them have shown considerable flexibility. Although PAN is officially outside the ruling coalition, the current leadership, under the control of chairman Zulkifli Hasan, supports the Jokowi’s administration.