Karim Raslan: Leadership Matters
As Ramadan draws near, the wheels of fortune have started turning in Jakarta. Indeed, Indonesia is entering into a period of uncertainty as the April 2014 legislative and July 2014 presidential elections — which will herald the end of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s era — loom larger.
Five recent events seem to suggest that the stately former general is losing his grip on authority. First: the naming of prominent businesswoman Siti Hartati Murdaya as a suspect by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Hartati, the wife of tycoon Murdaya Poo, has been accused of bribing an official in Buol to obtain land concessions for her palm oil company in Central Sulawesi.
Hartati’s indictment has political ramifications as she’s widely seen as close to Yudhoyono. Indeed, Hartati was an early and active backer of Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party. She was also a member of the Democratic Party’s advisory board and a member of the highly influential National Economic Committee (KEN). Globe Asia magazine in 2011 named her as the sixth most influential woman in Indonesia.
Hartati has denied the charges against her and resigned from her various posts. Still, the allegations spell more trouble for the Democratic Party, which has been constantly rocked by allegations of corruption against its senior leaders.
Second, the jaw-dropping interview given to Metro TV by the former KPK boss Antasari Azhar on Aug. 9. Antasari, who is in prison for a murder for hire, claims he attended an October 2008 meeting with Yudhoyono over the Bank Century bailout.
The meeting was also apparently attended by then-Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Bank Indonesia Governor (now Vice President) Boediono and other senior officials. This directly contradicts Yudhoyono’s claim that he knew nothing of the negative implications of the bailout, and the palace has been quick to deny Antasari’s allegations.
Third, the surprise performance of the PDI-P-backed mayor of Solo, Joko Widodo, in the first round of the Jakarta gubernatorial election in July suggests that people — at least in the capital — are open to the idea of change. It will be a crucial test for Yudhoyono to hold the all-important capital by keeping his coalition behind the Democratic Party’s incumbent, Fauzi Bowo, during the second round of voting on Sept. 20.
Fourth, Aug. 1 saw Gerinda leader Prabowo Subianto give a lecture in Singapore at the invitation of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies. This was then followed by a high-profile meeting with the city-state’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, the next day. The visit shows that Indonesia’s Southeast Asian neighbors are also watching the transition closely. One must ask: could a trip by Prabowo to the United States also be in the offing?
Finally, the impasse between the police and the KPK reinforces the sense that Yudhoyono’s administration has made little headway in terms of combating corruption. The fact that he needed to order the feuding law enforcement agencies to get along, but failed to address the issues between them is yet another example of his indecisiveness as well as how the mantle of authority has slipped from his grasp.
As, I said earlier, the wheels of fortune are turning. Could it be that Yudhoyono, with just under two years until the next presidential polls, has become a lame duck? Having said that, no one should underestimate his ability to revive the Democratic Party’s fortunes.
Nonetheless, the old concentrations of power are being further fractured. Yesterday’s golden boy is today’s outcast, and today’s hero could be tomorrow’s villain.
So as we prepare for Idul Fitri, let’s be mindful that the scenario this time next year may well be completely different! Happy Eid. Selamat Lebaran. Minal Aidin Wal Faidzin.
Karim Raslan is a columnist who divides his time between Indonesia and Malaysia.