Last Saturday, the Democratic Party (PD) selected Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the new chairman of the crumbling political party through an extraordinary congress in Bali. Yudhoyono thus replaced former chairman Anas Urbaningrum, who resigned from his post last month after being accused of involvement in a corruption case. It will be Yudhoyono's task to repair the image of his PD party, while still performing his duties as president.
Outbreak of Various Corruption Scandals
The PD - president Yudhoyono's political vehicle - has been hit by a string of corruption scandals these last two years, and which has impacted heavily on its popularity rates among Indonesians. In the parliamentary election of 2009, the party could rely on 20.8 percent of the national vote. Recent popularity polls, however, indicate that the party's popularity might have been reduced by half. The people are dissatisfied with the various corruption scandals within the party as well as the perceived weak performance of Yudhoyono as president.
It is rather ironic that the party that won the 2009 election (partly) based on its hard stance against corruption, has now been fighting multiple corruption scandals within its own inner circle. Former PD treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin was sentenced to almost five years imprisonment in April 2012 after being involved in a bribery case connected to the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. Apparently, he had been bribed in order to award company Duta Graha Indah a contract to construct an athletes’ village in Palembang (Sumatra). He subsequently fled the country and, while being abroad, accused fellow Democrats members Anas Urbaningrum and parliament member Angelina Sondakh of corruption in connection to the Hambalang sports center in Bogor (West Java). According to Nazaruddin, both had taken bribes to secure a contract for state-controlled company Adhie Karya. Sondakh was convicted to 4.5 years in jail, while Anas is still waiting for further legal repercussions.
Furthermore, in December 2012, minister of Youth and Sports Affairs Andi Mallarangeng (a PD member) resigned after being named a suspect in the Hambalang sports center case as well.
Apart from the eruption of these corruption scandals, Yudhoyono has also been increasingly criticized over the years for being a weak president. In fact, people feel that if Yudhoyono was indeed a strong leader, those above mentioned corruption cases would not have emerged in the first place. Also, his slow and soft condemnation of religious violence or religious discrimination (such as the Ahmadiyya killings in 2011 or the closing of multiple churches) has not left a good impression.
Towards the 2014 Elections
With not much longer than one year to go before new elections will be held (in which Yudhoyono himself will not be able to participate as the Indonesian constitution limits the presidency to two terms of five years), Yudhoyono - being the newly elected chairman - has a lot of damage repair to do. Interestingly, besides being PD's general chairman (and the country's president), he is also the chairman of the PD's high council, chairman of the advisory board, and chairman of the party’s supervisory commission. A busy schedule, and, therefore, he has selected a team to assist him in his duties. Syarifuddin Hasan, current minister of Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises, will handle the day-to-day affairs as managing chairman. Marzuki Alie, current speaker of the House of Representatives, will act as the deputy head of the high council. And lastly, E.E. Mangindaan, current Transportation minister, will act as the managing head of the advisory board.
This situation - in which Yudhoyono is now the authority on many important positions within the party's structure - has also generated criticism. In Indonesian media, we read that the PD party now has lost its democratic content (moreover his son, Edhie Baskoro, is the party’s secretary general). However, most Indonesian political parties, particularly the bigger ones, are by definition not based on democratic values, but instead act as vehicle for the political ambition of a specific individual; usually someone who is rich enough to buy his way in, and/or has a solid network that stretches back to the days of the authoritarian Suharto period. Money politics (and nepotism) is still the decisive factor in Indonesia's current political landscape.
Furthermore, Indonesia - in particular in the political domain - is a country with much embedded distrust, and not without reason. The various corruption scandals that emerged within the PD illustrate that Yudhoyono needs to be careful with the selection of people on strategic positions in his proximity. Appointing a family member on important positions, such as his son Edhie as secretary general or his brother-in-law Pramono Edhie Wibowo as army Chief, is safer because if you cannot trust a family member, who else can you trust?