Jakarta. Political analysts have attributed the winning streak of the opposition Red-White Coalition in the legislature to the re-emergence of “old actors” in Indonesian politics — including those who played active roles during the early reforms era but are now considered part of the so-called emerging political oligarchs.
Despite the bitter loss of their candidate Prabowo Subianto in the July 9 presidential election, the coalition, also known as KMP, has proved to be far from powerless. They have nailed victory after victory in the following set of political battles against their rivals in the legislature — they have managed to scrap direct elections of regional leaders, as well as seize control of both the House of Representatives and the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR).
Political analyst Fachry Ali said the loss, after the most bitterly fought presidential election in Indonesia’s history, gave members of the coalition an “energy boost.” This allowed them to aggressively undermine the influence of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the leader of the rival camp, despite the PDI-P’s win in the April 9 legislative elections and the following victory of its member, Joko Widodo, in the presidential race.
Their “emotional energy” has probably also been fueled by the PDI-P's perceived lack of desired response toward maneuvers made by some KMP members to jump ship to Joko’s side following his presidential election victory, Fachry added.
“How have they funneled their hugely strong political energy to the legislature? Which members in particular embody such energy?” Fachry, a political lecturer with Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University in Jakarta, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.
“The answers are Amien Rais and Akbar Tanjung. In terms of real parliamentary politics, they are the strongest actors, mature in politics. The others are simply just rookies.”
Amien, 70, the founder of Islamic-based National Mandate Party (PAN), has long been known as a major actor in Indonesia’s reform movement — which was responsible for the fall of late president Suharto and his autocratic New Order regime after 32 years in power.
Amien was the first speaker of the MPR elected after the fall of the regime.
Akbar, 69-years-old, meanwhile, is a veteran politician with Suharto’s Golkar Party, which finished second in this year’s legislative elections after the PDI-P. He was the speaker of the House during the same period as Amien’s MPR leadership.
Both of them were part of the so-called “Central Axis,’’ a movement within the MPR which was formed in 1999. This movement consisted mostly of Islamic parties, to prevent PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri from assuming Indonesia’s presidency, despite the PDI-P’s win in the 1999 election. The axis, spearheaded by Amien, won, resulting in the election of Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid as Indonesia’s fourth president, with Megawati as his vice president.
Amien retired as PAN chairman in 2005, a year after he lost to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Indonesia’s first direct presidential election. Amien has remained the chief patron of the party ever since.
Akbar, too, chaired Golkar from 1999 to 2004. He lost to former Indonesian military commander Wiranto in the party’s presidential convention in 2004, and later lost his re-election bid for Golkar’s chairmanship to Jusuf Kalla, then Indonesia’s vice president.
Amien and Akbar had largely retreated to obscurity from Indonesia’s political stage until recent months; more specifically after the Constitutional Court rejected the Red-White Coalition’s lawsuit challenging the result of the July 9 presidential election, upholding Joko’s win.
The court’s verdict had been expected to increase the likelihood of the coalition falling apart as some of its members began to intensify political talks with the PDI-P. The talks were in the hope of jumping ship to Joko’s side from a then sunken one carrying Prabowo and his losing party.
But while most of the talks with the PDI-P seemed to have ended in deadlock, the Red-White Coalition has so far survived against the odds, contradicting many analysts’ predictions of it collapsing. Rather, it has successfully grabbed control of the leadership positions in the legislature to offset their loss in the battle for executive power.
Amien was most recently seen attending a meeting of the PAN faction at the House, two days before PAN deputy chairman Zulkifli Hasan, who is related to him by marriage of their children, was nominated as the coalition’s candidate for the MPR speaker post and was then elected to the position during an overnight vote that ended on Wednesday morning.
Various media reports, meanwhile, have suggested Akbar’s increasing presence in meetings of the Golkar Party.
Aleksius Jemadu, the dean of Pelita Harapan University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, noted “ideological differences” between coalition members — namely between Amien, PAN and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) with their inclination toward political Islam and Akbar, Golkar and Prabowo’s Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) with their secular-nationalist stance.
“But they have found a unifying factor. They are all ‘victims’ of direct elections, and [their presidential election loss] has triggered political jealousy toward Joko Widodo, who has become popular,” Aleksius said.
“They need to prove they still exist, otherwise they will gradually diminish [from Indonesia’s political stage].”
Veteran politicians like Amien and Akbar, as well as Prabowo and current Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie — whom Aleksius refers to as the country’s “political oligarchs” thanks to the current political situation that they have produced — are making sure that diminish they won’t.
Other motives: Prabowo, or?
Various analysts, Aleksius said, have suspected that the Red-White Coalition’s legislative maneuvering — including endorsing a law allowing them to grab control of the parliament from the PDI-P and scrapping direct elections of regional leaders — were all intended to pave the way for them to somehow impeach Joko. Furthermore, they have been alleged of aiming to abolish direct presidential elections through a constitutional amendment to finally deliver Indonesia’s presidency to Prabowo, after he failed to do so through direct elections.
Prabowo’s brother, Gerindra patron and tycoon Hashim Djojohadikikusumo, has publicly insinuated that the coalition was seeking to find evidence of Joko’s wrongdoing.
In an interview on Tuesday, Hashim said coalition lawmakers were planning to investigate a corruption case regarding the Rp 1.5 trillion ($122.95 million) procurement of Chinese-made buses for the TransJakarta bus service — which was done by the Jakarta administration this year, while Joko was the governor.
“We will use our power to investigate and to obstruct [him],” Hashim told Reuters.
Aleksius said Joko must be extra careful once he is inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president on Oct. 20.
“They will use every opportunity to sideline Jokowi,” he said, referring to Joko with his popular nickname.
Fachry, though, thinks this is not all about Prabowo, questioning the likelihood of veteran politicians such as Amien and Akbar catering to demands of the former Army general and former son-in-law of late president Suharto.
“I think they [the strengthening Red-White Coalition] was unintentionally created, by the emotional defeat they shared. Other than that, they actually haven’t got any real shared goals,” Fachry said.
Furthermore, reformist figures such as Amien especially wouldn’t want to be called anti-democratic by scrapping direct presidential elections or impeaching a president without a major blunder, he added.
Aleksius suggested that although the PDI-P, Gerindra and Golkar were all nationalist-secularist parties, the latter two might be more willing to accommodate, on the surface at least, an Islamic agenda that “religious” politicians such as Amien and PKS members wanted to push for.
With Gerindra finishing only third in the April legislative elections and presidential hopefuls from Golkar seem to have never been popular enough to win a presidential election, they can only enjoy support from the Islamic parties.
Ironically, Indonesian Islamic parties themselves cannot unite without at least a single, major nationalist party like departing President Yudhyonoyo's Democratic Party.
The Islamic parties also have been implicated in a string of corruption scandals that further dampen their popularity. As individual parties, none of them has been outstanding, resulting in them collecting only between 6 and 7 percent of the vote each during the April elections.
“They [secular and Islamic parties in the Red-White Coalition] are different. They have different motives [for their aggressive maneuvers in the legislature],” Aleksius said. “But, pragmatic interests have united them. They use one another for each of their own goals.”
Such pragmatic interests actually make the coalition more prone to splits, Aleksius added.
And even though their aggressive stance in the legislature does not exactly bode well with constituents — for example 80 percent of Indonesians still favor direct regional elections, according to a survey — the coalition doesn’t seem to worry about risking their popularity.
“The next legislative elections are still five years from now,” Aleksius said, suggesting that many things can happen in between that would probably work in favor of members of the coalition.