ASEAN nation to watch – Indonesia

15 10 2008

AND A GREAT leader the Indonesians have in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) who has just offered to mediate in the ongoing border rift between Cambodia and Thailand! 🙂 BRAVO General SBY! Way to go! 🙂

Amidst brewing political uncertainty in Thailand and Malaysia, an economic giant to emerge from within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will undoubtedly be the Republic of Indonesia.

I am no political and economics analyst but the way I look at how stoic Indonesian President SBY has weathered through the natural calamities and disasters which have befallen the country over the years he has been in power has indeed been both courageous and admirable. Most impressive was his cool handling of the Aceh Tsunami catastrophe and the earthquake on Java island, one after another a few years ago. Both tragedies had left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions homeless.

Now, if such extreme presidential tests were the mysterious works of the Almighty, then it could only mean one thing… Indonesia, with SBY to win re-election again in next year’s General Elections or PEMILU, will soar to much greater heights as God-given rewards for the Indonesians’ patience and resilience.

In fact, SBY’s own choice of his running mate, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla (JK) who heads one of only two largest political parties in the country i.e. Golkar will only strengthen his position and chances of being re-elected as the President of Indonesia. His closest contender in next year’s PEMILU is the leader of the other biggest party, PDI-P, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. However, the SBY-KJ combination looks most likely to be a winning one. A strong Indonesian leadership is vital in facing the current gloomy outlook.

Below is an early political analysis as published in the Jakarta Post recently:

Bahtiar Effendy, Jakarta

For the public, it was neither surprising nor highly anticipated. But for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono it was necessary that he reveals his intention to participate in the upcoming presidential election.

As pressure mounted, with potential and in fact impossible presidential hopefuls beginning to sell themselves through television ads, billboards and roadside banners, President Yudhoyono had to disclose his candidacy once again for the top position in the country for the 2009-2014 period.

Knowing he was still the strongest contender, with Megawati Soekarnoputri close behind him, there was no way he could pass up this very opportunity. So there it was, the politics of silence was broken.

The announcement was hardly surprising. It only confirmed public perception that he would contest the presidency. What was surprising was the mention of Vice President Jusuf Kalla as his likely running mate. Equally surprising was Kalla’s response, which was highly positive. Reflecting on the past four years of working with Yudhoyono, he said he was happy and comfortable to be entrusted by the people to work with the President.

What should we make of this political exchange — knowing their leadership has often been plagued by seemingly irreconcilable differences in form and substance? All things considered, Yudhoyono’s statement and Kalla’s response were indeed a shrewd and calculated political move. With such a political exchange, they kept their options open.

A presidential candidacy is not something declared by an individual or organization. Only a political party, or a coalition of parties, that wins a certain amount of votes in the parliamentary election has the right to nominate a candidate to contest the office of president.

To date, the presidential election law — under which the 2009 election will be regulated — is nonexistent. A special committee in parliament is still assigned to it, ironing out a number of crucial points. One of them is the percentage of votes (or collective votes) required by a party (or a coalition) to secure the right to nominate a presidential candidate.

Considering the ongoing debate over this issue, there is a strong possibility that the minimum percentage will increase. In the last election, the figure was only 5 percent, therefore many parties, including Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, nominated their own candidates without support from other (smaller) parties.

For the upcoming election, there is a good chance the minimum percentage will be in the range of 15 to 30 percent. Medium-sized parties such as the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB) are comfortable with the range of 15 to 20 percent. Bigger parties like the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party are proposing a larger figure, between 25 to 30 percent.

Should the 15 or 20 percent figures become the cutoff point, the likelihood is that only Golkar and the PDI-P will be able to nominate a candidate without support from other parties. Yudhoyono’s party, on the other hand, would have to form a coalition.

This is where the mention of Jusuf Kalla fits in. With it, Yudhoyono is trying to secure a possible partnership with Golkar. Of course, he could always foster a coalition with other parties, such as the PKS, the PPP, the PAN or even the PKB, to ensure his nomination.

As the chairman of the largest party, it would be logical for Kalla to have his eye on the presidency. In addition, he is also seen as a capable person who can get things done. The Aceh peace deal was certainly one of his signature achievements. Because of these qualities, many want to see him in that position.

Surprisingly, however, his chances of becoming the No. 1 are low, as reflected in a series of surveys. His numbers have never gone beyond the 3 percent mark. The fact that to date Golkar has not yet decided on its presidential candidate can only lead one to speculate that it may well be influenced by these disheartening numbers.

If this is the case, Kalla’s future political position is actually in the balance. This is where the merit of Yudhoyono’s offer lies. It is an opportunity Kalla can exploit to ensure his continued service to the nation.

Other than the above analysis, one can always argue that there is nothing else for either Yudhoyono or Kalla, other than to engage in precisely such an exchange. There is no way the former would announce his intention to run again and not offer Kalla the deputy role. Similarly, it would be impossible for Kalla to reject the offer.

If Yudhoyono had offered the vice presidential position to someone else, or if Kalla had rejected the offer, one could only imagine where the country would go in the next six or seven months.

So, besides the political shrewdness of the move, it also has the dimensions of the politics of being polite.”





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