The Thinker: Political Momentum
Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan has sparked a national debate by saying he would resign if his candidacy at the Democratic Party presidential primaries were to lead to a conflict of interest. Should active government officials resign when they decide to run for higher office, such as the presidency?
Politicians agree that if Gita’s intention to resign is sincere, it should be appreciated as a good political gesture and an example for future leaders to follow. They believe that any time a government official runs for higher office this will surely lead to a conflict of interest.
And by resigning, Gita would get a lot of sympathy from the public.
But not everybody agrees.
The outspoken former spokesman for the late President Abdurrahman Wahid, Adhie Massardi, said those who were in favor of Gita resigning “have lost their senses.” Officials taking part in the Democratic Party convention, Adhie says, should stay put and work hard to implement good policies and serve the people.
He also says that if an official like Gita intends to resign, this is proof that his only ambition is to become president. According to Adhie, politicians who favor Gita’s resignation are actually after his position.
While Gita is staying put, the Indonesian ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal, has formally resigned and says he wants to concentrate on the Democrats’ convention. Also, deputy chairman of the Committee for Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation Hayono Isman has resigned to focus on the convention.
House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie, a ruling party stalwart also taking part in the convention, meanwhile said he would welcome and appreciate Gita’s resignation if the country would be facing a trade deficit and the convention affects his performance as trade minister.
But Marzuki added that he would not resign himself, as he still could manage his time well, adding: “Even a president doesn’t have to resign when he wants to run for a second term.”
Politics is all about the right momentum. And a resignation can create great political momentum.
Look at what happened when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established the Democratic Party in 2001. Yudhoyono was still serving as coordinating minister for political and security affairs under President Megawati Sukarnoputri in January 2004.
Megawati then ordered the home minister and state secretary to call on ministers running for president to resign from the cabinet. Megawati’s husband, Taufiq Kiemas, then urged Yudhoyono to report to the president as a subordinate on ethical grounds while calling the four-star general “childish.” Yudhoyono then quipped that all his duties had been taken over by the president.
The rift between Yudhoyono and Megawati became wide. Many felt pity for Yudhoyono and with the unanimous support of the media this proved to create enough momentum for Yudhoyono to gain political foothold.
Yudhoyono went on to win the 2004 presidential elections in two rounds against Megawati. He then won again — in just one round — in 2009, with more than 60 percent of the votes. That took many people by surprise.
Nine years later, a resignation controversy once again has filled the political airwaves.
Will this resignation controversy create new momentum, like in the past?
Will a minister win the Democratic Party convention if he seizes the momentum amid this resignation controversy?
No one knows. Politics indeed can turn the impossible into reality.
But one thing is sure. Gita can’t resign, and neither can Dahlan Iskan, Irman Gusman, Marzuki Alie, Anies Baswedan and Sinyo Harry Sarundajang.
Who would run the ministries, the House, universities and provinces? It would be a joke.
Yanto Soegiarto is the managing editor of Globe Asia, a sister publication of the Jakarta Globe.