Just a few years ago, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party (in Indonesian Partai Demokrat or PD) enjoyed huge popularity among Indonesia's population. More than one fifth of the electorate voted for the 'Democrats' in the 2009 parliamentary election, a notable achievement in Indonesia's pluralistic society. In particular, the party's hard stance towards corruption was likened by the people. Now, however, the party crumbles under its own weight.
Last Friday, president Yudhoyono announced that he would take back the leadership of his Democratic Party as the party is showing falling popularity rates ahead of the 2014 elections. Various surveys indicate that the party has lost half of its support compared to the 2009 victory. People are dissatisfied with the performance of both the Democratic Party and the president. Although one of the pillars of the party's philosophy was the eradication of wide-spread (political) corruption in Indonesian society, it failed to achieve its ambitious target. When various corruption scandals began to appear within the party itself, many people turned their back to the party. Apart from corruption within the party, Yudhoyono's popularity as president of Indonesia declined as well. Although Yudhoyono - a former army general - still enjoys a clean sheet regarding corruption, he is increasingly regarded as a weak leader by many Indonesians, in particular because of his soft stance towards religious violence and because the fruits of Indonesia's economic growth seem to be enjoyed by a small elite, rather than society at large.
In his announcement last Friday, Yudhoyono said he would focus on cleaning and restructuring the party, thereby replacing Anas Urbaningrum (chairman of the Democratic Party) as leader of the party. Yudhoyono stated that this step will also provide more time for Anas to focus on this legal process. Anas is one of the Democrat members that has been linked to a corruption case recently. Although Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has not made an official statement yet, sources inform that Anas is involved in the 'Hambalang sports center'-case. Allegedly, Anas received bribes from state-controlled construction companies Adhie Karya and Wijaya Karya to win the tender to build the Hambalang sports center in Bogor (West Java).
The roots of this issue date back to early 2011, when the treasurer of the Democratic Party, Muhammad Nazaruddin was named a suspect in the Hambalang-case, subsequently fled the country and was eventually arrested in Colombia. During his hideout, Nazaruddin was able to communicate to Indonesian media and named fellow Democrats members, in particular chairman Anas and parliament member Angelina Sondakh, as accomplices. Sondakh was convicted to 4.5 years in jail last month, while Anas is still waiting for actions of the KPK. Moreover, in December 2012, minister of Youth and Sports Affairs Andi Mallarangeng (a close Yudhoyono protege) stepped down as minister after he was labelled a suspect in the Hambalang-case.
All in all, it has resulted in significant declining popularity of the Democratic Party. Whether Yudhoyono will succeed in restoring the party's image after re-taking its leadership, remains doubtful. On the positive side (for Yudhoyono), the other main Indonesian political parties are not free of scandals and problems too.