The Same Difference
    Category: Column By : Taufik Darusman Read : 965 Date : Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 06:06:38

    Less than a year from now, some time in October, the nation will have a new leader as the current president, Susilo B. Yudhoyono (SBY), is constitutionally barred from running for the third time. Not that SBY stands a chance of getting re-elected anyway; polls show his electability has hit rock-bottom thanks to public perception of him as an ineffective leader. But if SBY were able to run again and decides to do so, he would probably lose against the likes of the very popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and the very rich Prabowo Subianto, Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) Party's chief patron. Both figures—they have yet declared their candidacies but are likely to do so soon—are seen as having the very leadership qualities SBY lacks: firmness and hands-on.

    Compounding SBY's problems is his political machine, the scandal-ridden Democratic Party (PD), which is in a shambles and is cash-strapped. Its presidential candidate convention involving party outsiders is tantamount to an admission it lacks credible and potential figures within its ranks. Meanwhile, major PD benefactors such as former PD treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin are in jail for corruption. Businesspeople poured money into PD's coffers during SBY's re-election bid in 2009, but they are unlikely to do so in 2014—they know a good, or a bad, investment when they see one.

    Many feel that SBY could have achieved much more during his two five-year terms though official figures show the country fared quite well during his stewardship. In 2006, two years after he took charge of the country, unemployment was at 10.5%, a figure that is now down to 5.9%. If in the same year the poverty level stood at 37.3 million, in 2013 it was down to 28 million. And during the period of 2006-1012 the GDP rose over threefold, from $286 to $850, while the GDP per capita increased by 200%, from $1,643 to $3,592. For three consecutive years, the economic growth rate had risen steadily from 6.1% in 2010 to 6.5% in 2011 and 6.7% in 2012. However, it is likely to drop slightly in 2013 due mostly to external factors.

    Whether the impending change of administration will mean a betterment for the nation remains a source of public consternation. In April, legislative elections will be held in which nearly 70% of the current lawmakers will seek re-election—the same bunch who seldom turn up for House commission sessions or plenary meetings. The result of the elections will determine who the presidential candidates are: only the party or a coalition of parties that holds 20% of the House seats, or 25% of the popular votes, is entitled to nominate a candidate.

    As recent polls show, 2014 is set to be a slight variation of 2009. At the time only PD managed to obtain the 20% threshold, leaving the remaining eight parties scrambling to form joint ventureships in order to field their respective candidates. This time around it is likely the public will again experience the same political horse trading it witnessed five years ago.

    But that is only the beginning of the nightmare. The worst part comes when the winner of the presidential election sets up his cabinet. Beholden to the parties that enabled him to become president-elect, he will have to repay the favor by doling out ministerships to them. The likely result is the so-called “rainbow cabinet” that has often rendered SBY's leadership ineffective.

    As recent events show, ministries and the state budget—and undisclosed corporate donations—are prime sources of funds for parties to underwrite their operations. The distinguished Australian scholar Marcus Mietzner wrote in “Money, Power, and Ideology: Political Parties in Post-Authoritarian in Indonesia” that only 2.3% of Indonesians are party members. One can safely assume that even less pay membership dues. One can also safely assume that nothing much will change after October 2014.