Indonesia’s fractured political system is at risk of further shattering

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JAKARTA – Indonesia’s multi-party political system is at risk of further breaking down after an apparent coup in a former ruling party.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s chief of staff, Moeldoko, was appointed chairman of the Democratic Party at an extraordinary meeting on March 5 by a faction of the party. The retired general has never been a member of the party founded by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who lambasted him for trying to take over the leadership of his son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono.

Critics have accused Widodo of orchestrating the move – his office denies. The feud is the latest in a series of internal conflicts that have divided political parties, hardening the deep political fragmentation that has been blamed for ineffective governance and hampering the country’s growth potential.

“Many do not believe that the presidential chief of staff, Moeldoko, is conspiring with [party] members to heartlessly and coolly organize the coup, “Yudhoyono said in a televised speech.” I am ashamed … for giving him confidence and a position in the past. “

The Democratic Party meeting on the outskirts of Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, did not reach a quorum and was not attended by any of the party’s national board members, said separately Harimurti. He added that the event was “illegal” and the decisions taken there “invalid”.

Harimurti last week filed an official letter with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights asking it to reject the result. Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law and Security, Moh. Mahfud MD, said the government still recognizes Harimurti as party chairman.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Rahmat, spokesperson for the faction promoting Moeldoko, expressed dissatisfaction among grassroots members over the alleged mismanagement of the national executive board, the levies imposed on regional branches of the party and the lack of financial transparency. .

“We were looking for a figure who can unite us, who has an extensive network and who can perhaps revive the eligibility of the Democratic Party,” he said, explaining the decision of Congress to choose Moeldoko.

Widodo’s silence on the matter and the fact that Moeldoko is an active member of the cabinet fueled speculation about the president’s role in this case.

Ali Mochtar Ngabalin, a senior official in the office of the presidential chief of staff, said Moeldoko’s action was a “personal decision” and had no connection with Widodo. “How should the president make a decision when an individual exercises his political right?” [Moeldoko has been] asked, offered and supported to become the chairman of the Democratic Party. “

Some observers say it is too speculative to claim that Widodo played a role in the Democratic Party saga, especially since the constitution prohibits presidents from serving more than two five-year terms and Widodo has already been reelected.

But others see the move as benefiting Widodo’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI-P) by gaining support from a rival party ahead of the 2024 presidential and legislative elections.

Moeldoko, chief of staff for the Indonesian presidency, greets after a press conference in Jakarta on February 3. © Reuters

For three decades under the authoritarian rule of the late dictator Suharto, Indonesia had only three parties in parliament.

In 1999, following the fall of Suharto the previous year, Indonesia held its first democratic elections, with no less than 48 parties competing for national legislative seats. The number has since declined, with 16 parties contending in the last elections in 2019, nine of which exceeded the parliamentary threshold of 4%.

The PDI-P currently controls 22% of the seats – the most in the chamber – and Widodo’s coalition holds 74% of the total. Support from the Democratic Party, the largest party during Yudhoyono’s presidency, would give him 9 percentage points more.

In the absence of dominant parties, post-Suharto governments generally lacked a strong mandate and relied on transactional politics between parties, thus preventing political appointments and the development of appropriate policies.

Other parties suffer from internal conflicts. Amien Rais, founder of the Islamic-leaning National Mandate Party, announced in October his decision to create the Ummat Party, which appears to have a tougher Islamist agenda. In 2019, following a long internal conflict, two senior officials of the successful Justice Party left the Islamist organization to found the Gelora Party.

An earlier example was the defection of senior members of Golkar, Indonesia’s oldest political party and Suharto’s political vehicle. Among them were Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who later founded the Gerindra Party, and a former Security Minister, Wiranto, who created the Hanura Party.

Syamsuddin Haris, professor of politics at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said that although they symbolize the country’s democracy, many Indonesian political parties are led by “personalist and oligarchic” leaders and create divisions by failing to succeed. to embrace democracy within their own organizations.

“Political parties must institutionalize democracy internally if they are serious about defending democracy at the national level,” Haris said. “If the party elites run their parties autocratically, it is almost certain that they will behave the same if they come to power.”

Fitch Solutions said in a March 2 memo that despite four rounds of peaceful parliamentary and presidential elections since 1999, Indonesia’s political system is still “immature”, with political parties “dominated by figures rather than problems.”

Fitch says Indonesia scores poorly on its long-term political risk index, adding that “with a relatively large income gap, tensions among a diverse ethnic population, and high levels of corruption, the country still has formidable challenges to overcome “.

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